plural noun: fungi
any of a group of spore-producing organisms feeding on organic matter, including moulds, yeast, mushrooms, and toadstools.
The following info is lifted from Canada’s Ministry of Forest and Range What is a
A mushroom is the reproductive structure produced by some fungi. It is
somewhat like the fruit of a plant, except that the "seeds" it produces
are in fact millions of microscopic spores that form in the gills or
pores underneath the mushroom's cap. The spores blow away into
the wind, or are spread by other means, such as animal feeding. If
they land on a suitable substrate (such as wood or soil) spores will
germinate to form a network of microscopic rooting threads
(mycelium) which penetrate into their new food source. Unlike the
mushroom, which pops up then passes away quickly, the mycelium
persists, often for many years, extracting nutrients and sending up its
annual crop of mushrooms.
Mushrooms are fungi. They belong in a kingdom of their own,
separate from plants and animals. Fungi differ from plants and
animals in the way they obtain their nutrients. Generally, plants make
their food using the sun's energy (photosynthesis), while animals eat,
then internally digest, their food. Fungi do neither: their mycelium
grows into or around the food source, secretes enzymes that digest
the food externally, and the mycelium then absorbs the digested
nutrients. There are exceptions to these generalizations; some
organisms are placed into their respective kingdoms based on
characteristics other than their feeding habits.
Recyclers/Decomposers – saprophytic fungi
Some mushrooms are capable of digesting wood, breaking it
down into the primary components of forest soils. They also decay
other dead plant and animal matter. A forest in which nothing
rotted would soon be choked with accumulating dead leaves and
woody material, and starved for essential minerals and other
nutrients bound up in the undecomposed debris.
Tree-Helpers/Mutalists - Mycorrhizal Fungi “Myco” –“rhiza” literally
means “fungus” – “root”
Many mushrooms formpartnerships with roots of living trees, and the
resulting fungus-root is called a mycorrhiza. The mushroom's mycelium
weaves itself around the root and actually alters the shape of the root.
The mushroom absorbs water and minerals for the tree, but in return
the tree gives the mushroom nutrients, too. Since both partners benefit
from each other, their alliance is considered a symbiotic relationship.
Mycorrhizal mushrooms are often seen under trees, growing in lines or
rings, following the progress of root growth under the earth.
+ Predatory fungi (actively capture their prey with their hyphae) and Parasitic
Fungi (they feed on living organisms without killing them, at least for a while eg,
What to look for/How to identify/Terminology
SUBSTRATE - Observe whether the mushroom is growing in soil, leaf litter, on wood, in
dung? Whatever it’s growing on (which can be hard to tell exactly ) is called ‘substrate’
HABITAT - What is the habitat? Pine forest, grassland, oak forest, on Moors etc – Take
note as lots of fungi form mycorrhizal relationships with their hosts
HOW IS IT GROWING? On its own (singularly), with many others (trooping), in a tuft
(growing from a single point) or in a ring?
COLOUR -Does the flesh change colour when oxidises eg. cut
TEXTURE- What is the texture? Slimey? Does it produce milky liquid when cut?
SMELL- Does the mushroom have a particular smell (or taste if you are confident in doing a
spit test. Best to only do if you are 100% sure its not a poisonous mushroom)
SHAPE OF THE CAP-Bell shaped, flat, convex, etc
LOOK UNDER THE CAP- are there are gills or tubes or teeth/spines, or veins? Do the
gills go all the way to the edge of the cap or only halfway before connecting with others? As
you progress you will want to cut the cap and make a cross section so you can identify how
the gills attach to the stem
STEM/STIPE- is it reticulated (ridges), is there colour differentiation, is there a ring
(annulus) around the stem? Is the stem hollow, does it have a small or large bulb at the
bottom, does it have a volva (cup at the base of the stem- remanent of the universal veil
as the mushroom grew out of the egg/sack)
VEIL – are there remnants of a partial veil, what texture is it?, is the veil still intact, is it a
cobweby veil (cortina), remnants of a universal veil e.g. the white bits on a fly agaric cap
See link for tips and visuals on fungi terminology for identification Mushroom Identification – The Mushroom Diary – UK Wild Mushroom Hunting Blog
See link for glossary of terms Glossary of mycological (fungi) terminology (first-nature.com)
At home make a spore print by placing just the cap on black paper, covered with a glass and
leaving the spores for 2-3 hours. The spores will drop and leave a print on the paper.
Different coloured spores help you identify.
Don’t collect in a plastic bag as the humidity will degrade your specimens. Basket works
Don’t eat anything you can’t identify 100%
Buy yourself a little knife to take into the field with you so you can neatly cut your fungi at the base of the stem
You might want to buy a hand lens so you can see the details of your fungi better The NHBS
You might want to progress to using a key to identify fungi
A few suggested and recommended books are Fungi of Temperate Europe Vol.1 and 2. By
Thomas Laessoe and Jens H. Peterson. + First Steps in Mushroom identification by Archie
Identifying by group - It can be helpful to recognise fungi visually by group
Fungi can begin to be identified by how the spores are produced and dispersed- the
main groups are Basidiomycetes and Ascomycetes. In the Basidiomycetes, the
spores are produced externally, on the end of specialised cells
In Ascomycetes, spores are produced internally, inside a sac called
an ascus- and the spores burst out hence their name ‘Spore shooters’
Common fungal groups – Basidiomycetes= Stinkhorn, Earthballs, Puffballs,
Birds nest, Polypore, crust, jelly fungi (on wood), coral, club, tooth/spine,
gilled fungi, boletes, false truffles
Common fungal groups -Ascomycetes = Cup and flask fungi eg. Morels,
and true truffles
See link for visual Microsoft Word - fungi Groups.doc (dbca.wa.gov.au)
This blog post was written and curated by Alice von Kohler