The Web of Life (45) Macroscopic Fungi


All multicellular fungi have 2 features: 1) cells with threadlike filaments (hyphae), which often have branches; and 2) special reproductive structures that prodigiously shed spores.

Few macrofungi are aquatic. The bog beacon, a water mushroom, is one. Its fruiting body rises above the surface of water from its substrate of submerged, well-decayed wood or leaf mat.

Most macrofungi grow as hyphae, at the tip of ever-expanding filaments, food supply permitting. Hyphae typically grow to form a mesh-like mass: mycelia.

Spores are the next generation of a fungus, and a sturdy hedge against dire conditions, as lightweight spores are easily airborne, and can easily withstand aridity. With the proper nutrients available, an individual spore can germinate and start its life cycle.

Like animals, all fungi are heterotrophic. Most are saprovores; collectively playing an important ecological role in nutrient recycling. A few are carnivores (150 species out of 1.5 million).

Mycelium exude enzymes that break down the meal of the moment into a simpler soup that the hyphae absorb. Specific enzymes target the food of choice.

Every naturally occurring organic material can be consumed by some type of fungus.

Macrofungi include mushrooms, toadstools, puffballs, and bracket fungi. One puffball seen in Washington state was as big as a sheep: 1.5 meters long and 1 meter wide.