Species of the Month, September 2021: Fascinating Fungus
by Inga Hinnerichsen
The good, the bad and the ugly…
and the weird and the wonderful, too
Enter the mysterious world of fungi, or at least, get a tiny scratch at the surface of this huge Kingdom. There are at least an estimated 5,000,000 species on our planet, maybe much more. Nobody knows for sure.
Fungi were considered to be part of the Plant Kingdom up until the mid-1960s when they were separated out forming their own Kingdom. The science of fungi, mycology, is constantly evolving, little is still known about these fascinating organisms.
What we normally refer to as “mushrooms” are really the fruiting bodies of the fungus, much like apples on a tree. The major portion of the fungus is under ground or inside tree trunks, live or decaying. It can spread out into very large areas. This hidden part is called “mycelium” and consists of thread-like filaments, some thick as shoe laces, others more like spider silk. When conditions are perfect for a species – temperature, humidity, amount of daylight hours, etc., it will produce its fruiting bodies.
Mycology has barely scratched the surface of the potential of their use in modern western pharmacology. Asian cultures have been using them in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Penicillin is derived from a mold fungus. Psilocybin is a hallucinogen found in over 140 species and has been found helpful in treating depression, anxieties and other mental disorders. A fungus compound is commonly used to make a patient’s body accept an organ transplant. Fungi might even be able to clean up oil and chemical spills. Fungi help us make bread, cheese, beer and wine, besides making delicious accents to our meals.