Fungi & Lichens
Fungi are such fun guys that they have earned their own Kingdom (see the image southwest of this line). Guess what? Fungi are not plants. Most build their cell walls out of chitin, which is the same material as the hard outer shells of insects and other arthropods. Plants don't build chitin. Mosses are not considered fungi, so you can find them on the plants page. Lichens, on the other hand, are currently being integrated into the classification system for fungi.
Lichens are composite organisms consisting of a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a photosynthetic partner, usually either a green alga or cyanobacterium. The morphology, physiology and biochemistry of lichens are very different from those of the isolated fungus and alga in culture.
Lichens occur in some of the most extreme environments on Earth—arctic tundra, hot deserts, rocky coasts, and toxic slag heaps. But they are also abundant as epiphytes on leaves and branches in rain forests and temperate woodland, on bare rock, including walls, gravestones, and on exposed soil surfaces.
Lichens are widespread and may be long-lived. However, many are also vulnerable to environmental disturbance, and may be useful to scientists in assessing the effects of air pollution, ozone depletion, and metal contamination. Lichens have also been used in making dyes and perfumes, as well as in traditional medicines.
Fungi feed by absorbing nutrients from the organic material in which they live. Fungi do not have stomachs. They must digest their food before it can pass through the cell wall into the hyphae. Hyphae secrete acids and enzymes that break the surrounding organic material down into simple molecules they can easily absorb.
Fungi have evolved to use a lot of different items for food. Some are decomposers living on dead organic material like leaves. Some fungi cause diseases by feeding on living organisms, including plants, animals, and other fungi. Athlete’s foot and ringworm are two fungal diseases in humans. The mycorrhizal fungi live as partners with plants. They provide mineral nutrients to the plant in exchange for carbs or other chemicals fungi can't manufacture.
Help us identify this mystery mushroom found in a woodland lot along Hurricane Creek, March 2012. Roger's Mushrooms is a great online resource for fungus identification.
We found the same mushroom in Hurricane Creek Park in May, 2012.