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Fungi have become instrumental to homes and industries. The manufacturing processes of foods like bread, cheese, wine, and beer require fungi. There are mushrooms, morels, truffles, and epicurean delicacies derived from the mycelia of certain species of fungi and used to make highly proteinous meals.

Today, the most significantly popular and economically viable fungi are toadstools and mushrooms. They are also the most numerous and the most recognizable ones.

So, what is fungi, and what do they do? In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the answer to this question and the various uses and purposes of different types of fungi.

What are Fungi?

colony of fungi

Fungi are eukaryotic organisms, which means they are characterized by cells encased within organic membrane-bound organelles and a set of defined nuclei. Fungi used to be regarded as a plant, but their lack of chlorophyll and their unique composition of distinctive structural and physiological features have distinguished them from actual plants.

Fungi stand apart from all other living organisms, including animals, due to their primary modes of nutrient intake. They have continually grown and sprouted from the tips of the filaments that make up the bodies of organisms, and they digest organic matter externally before absorption goes into the mycelia.

Historically, humans have been aware of fungi since the first loaf of leavened bread was baked, and the first tub of grape was crushed, ground, and manufactured into wine. A good part of the ancients was aware of the negative ravages of fungi in agriculture, but they were superstitiously attributed to the wrath of the gods invoked upon humanity.

What are the Most Common Types of Fungi?

Fungi play a vastly pertinent role in Earth’s overall ecology. From microscopic organisms to giant mushrooms, its wide-ranging species possess unique characteristics relevant to the Fungi kingdom’s role on Earth.

They are all embedded within different phylum or taxonomic categories. Meanwhile, here are the most common types of fungi.


The largest phylum of fungi is scientifically referred to as Ascomycota. They are called ascomycetes or sac fungi because their ascospores are contained in a sac called an ascus. This phylum family comprises unicellular yeasts, truffles, molds, lichens, a few mushrooms, and filamentous fungi, all of which number up to 64,000.

This type of fungi has also been used to make bread, beer, and cheese and is instrumental in discovering medicines like penicillin.


Basidiomycota is another phylum of fungi that consists mainly of mushrooms. Basidiomycetes are responsible for producing basidiospores and club-shaped structures referred to as basidia. It includes mushrooms, smut fungi, rust, and grain pathogens. Examples include:

  • Agaricus bisporus: Common edible mushrooms
  • Amanita phalloides: Poisonous mushrooms
  • Psilocybe cubensis: Mushrooms that give a hallucinogenic effect.


Fungi within the chytridiomycota category are referred to as chytrids. They are the oldest fungi, typically microscopic organisms found in freshwater. Chytrids are one of the few groups of fungi with active motility that produce moving spores using a single flagellum. They gain nutrients through the degradation of keratin and chitin. Examples include:

  • Olpidium brassicae: Parasitic plant fungus.
  • Polyphagus euglena: Algae parasite


The glomeromycota doesn’t contain as many fungi as mentioned above, but they still play important roles in terrestrial and wetland habitats. They form symbiotic relationships with plant hosts and provide nutritional value to plants. In reciprocation, the fungus gets the energy to reproduce. Examples include:

  • Gigaspora margarita:(resides on plant roots without destroying the plant.)
  • Geosiphon pyriformis: (lives on cyanobacteria, rather than plants)

What Do Fungi Do?

In the 90s, a mycologist named Paul Stamets alerted the world to mycoremediation – the power of fungi to clean up oil spills and pathogen-infested soils. Similarly, in 2006, Michael Pollan explained how fungi regenerate forests after fires. These shockingly innovative discoveries are just a few examples of the powers embedded within kingdom fungi populated with 3.5 million species. However, the core critical purpose of this kingdom is interwoven with Earth’s ecosystems.


Fungi are significant decomposers. They are responsible for the breakdown of a wide range of materials. Through this process, fungi take in carbon they use as food to grow themselves. Fungi convert nitrogen and phosphorus to ammonium, sulfates, and phosphates for plants to absorb. Essentially, fungi provide the nutrients required to recycle dead plants into living plants.

Beneficial Partnerships

Fungi also forge mutually beneficial partnerships within the plant and animal world. The associations differ, depending on the soil and habitat. When they inhabit the earth, fungi create mycorrhizae that connect with a plant’s roots.

The connection and togetherness enable the plant to funnel carbon and sugars to the fungus. The fungus, in return, extends its hyphae into the soil to explore decomposed dead matter that would be used to supply nutrients and water to the plant.

Fungi also help plants stimulate their hormones and help them fight off pathogens. They also aid adaptation and tolerance to different environmental conditions and temperatures.

Maintaining a Balanced Ecosystem

Collectively, fungi have a large scale relevance to our planet by helping to keep it habitable. They keep the temperature of Earth in balance by aiding the conversion of carbon in decomposing organisms into carbon dioxide. Also, their role in the soil serves as the primary conduit of carbon sequestration in our terrestrial ecosystem.

Where are Fungi Found?

fungi decomposing wood

Fungi can be found across all habitats, be it aquatic or terrestrial. But the most common places to find fungi are:

  • Woods – you will found amongst leaf litter in woods
  • Hedgerows
  • Gardens
  • Pastures or grassland – you will find fungi like mushrooms here.

You can also find them in water or soil as a decomposer. You can even culture fungi in the laboratory, so their characteristics can be inspected with keen professional eyes. You can check this video for more information on how to culture fungi in the laboratory.

How to Identify Fungi

Microscopic investigation of fungi is an intricate process. It is also best done indoors. The study of fungal spores, basidia, cystidia, sphaerocysts, and other minuscule features of fungi require a microscope of at least ×400 magnification. Distilled water, potassium hydroxide, ferrous sulfate, and ammonia are just a few needed ingredients.

Fungi are identified chiefly by their morphology. They possess mycelium and spores for observation. So, these are the most important things to look out for and the origin of the spores and sexual or asexual qualities while identifying a fungus.

Most academic experts believe a lot in the slide culture technique because it helps to identify morphology quickly. A common and simplistic method of microscopic identification is the addition of lactophenol cotton blue on one slide, then adding the fungi growth to the drop. Tease the fungi growth apart using two needles to make the mycelium come apart. A clear image in the microscope is what is left. It is usually good to visit the web or a laboratory to report the findings.

Can You See Fungi Without A Microscope?

There are certain kinds of fungi that cannot be identified without a microscope. Some species can only be identified through patterns on their tiny spores and gill analysis through a microscope.

However, others can be seen without a microscope. For example, due to their distinctive macro characteristics, macrofungi can be seen without a microscope.

This doesn’t mean that fungi are easy to identify. It is notoriously tricky because numerous species look highly similar. It is estimated that there are between 50,000 and 250,000 fungi species in Australia, but so far, only 11,846 have been identified.

Observation is crucial in fungi identification. Shape, size, and color are the most critical factors to observe. Fungi also have a distinct smell. They all vary in texture from leathery to sticky, rough, smooth, and others are so fragile, and they don’t last for more than a day.

Some are clustered together in groups, while others stand alone in solitary fashion. Others are attached to wood or grow amongst dead grass.

A good understanding of what characterizes a fungus is also a necessary imperative.

  • The shape, color, and size of the fruiting body.
  • How the gills are attached to the stem.
  • The color, shape, and size of the stem.
  • Smell and texture
  • Habitat

For instance, the giant puffball (known botanically as Calvatia gigantea) is one of the most prevalent fungi in the UK. Its size is similar to that of a football. Its fruiting bodies are solid, white, thin, and smooth but turn olive and brown in maturity. It has no stem, but can be connected to the ground by a fine filamentous root. Its habitat is in lawns, woodlands, and fine pastures.


Fungi are impressive organisms that have thrived impressively on the planet for ages.. However, as we learn more about how these species thrive with plants and animals, the stresses of climate change are taking a toll on its growth within Earth’s ecosystem.

Careless human actions are detrimental to the existence of fungi. Fungi are essential two-dimensional microbe that is resilient yet fragile. If we begin to lose them, our planet might not fully recover from the various beneficial purposes they serve.

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