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What is a Fungus? By definition, fungi are a large group of living organisms, which reproduce by spores, and do not depend on light as an energy source. The “mushrooms” and other fungi we see are the fruiting bodies – the “flowers” – of a large underground network of microscopic threads called hyphae.

A mass of hyphae is called a mycelium. Under favourable conditions, these mycelia will produce spores for reproduction. So it is a temporary reproductive organ. Fungi get their food/energy source in various ways. Some are Saphrotrophic – getting nutrients from dead or decaying matter, in turn reducing the litter layer, at the same time providing carbon and nitrogen for the surrounding plant life.

Others are parasitic, relying on a living host with no benefit to the host. Examples are the beautiful golden Australian Honey fungus, attacking the sapwood of living Eucalypts, and the vegetable caterpillar, parasitising moth larvae. Symbiotic fungi grow with a living host, with benefits to both, via reaction with fungi and fine plant rootlets. The plant (trees/shrubs) provides food energy to the fungus, and in return gets greatly increased ability to take up water nutrients and trace elements. This interchange of nutrients and litter recycling is vital to the healthy long-term survival of the bush.

These small plant forms are as important in the web of life as the tallest trees. They are in fact the giants of the forest. If you would like to know more about this fascinating plant form, have a look at the FUNGI website or at the library for books on the subject.

 

 

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copyright 2007 www.northeastbioregionalnetwork.org.au, Last update July 25, 2017