Why did the mushroom have a lot of friends?
Because he was a fungi!A previous hike on a cool October morning at Reed-Turner Woodland Preserve in Long Grove, Illinois provided me with a fun(gi) observation on the trail.
As I rounded a corner of the trail, I noticed a shady patch of forest woodland covered by various mushroom umbrellas and puff balls.
I took note of how the mushrooms were single or gathered in clumps. I also observed how they were positioned on the wet trail, on a fallen tree limb, or sprouting from the crevice of a tree stump.
I got the impression that these mushroom stalks were like little houses or buildings on the sides of hills or on the slopes of mountains.
I remember as a young hiker, many years ago, finding puffball mushrooms in the woods and stomping on them to release the dust of spores from the puffy tops. It was not done as a destructive activity, but out of curiosity.
Now, as an adult, I know to leave puffballs alone on the trail. Instead of young hiker's boots, the spores contained in puffballs are dispersed by raindrops or the wind.
Native Americans applied dried puffball powder to dress wounds. This is not recommended or performed in the modern era!
Fungi are organisms that are not quite plants and not quite animals. Thus, they occupy their own kingdom in the taxonomy, or classification, of biologic organisms. The group of fungi includes yeasts, molds, and mushrooms.
Because they do not manufacture chlorophyll like plants, fungi must obtain their nutrition from the environment, as do animals.
Through DNA technology, scientists have determined that fungi are more closely related to animals than plants, in spite of the familiar stalks and caps of fungi, which resemble a plant like appearance.
If the fungus obtains its nutrients from other living plants or animals,
it is classified as a parasite. If its main nutrition comes from dead
or decaying matter, it is called a saprophyte.
The role of fungi in breaking down plant and animal matter is fundamental in returning nutrients back into the environment. Directly or indirectly, nearly all life forms on earth are dependent on this function of fungi.
Fungi also play an important role in supporting the ecologic systems on our planet.
The health and growth of many plants depend upon the presence of fungi attaching to the plants' root system.
The metabolic activity of fungi is instrumental to 90% of all plant species on earth. In those plants, the fungi facilitate the ability of the plant's roots to take up inorganic nitrogen and phosphorous from the soil. This relationship between fungi and plant roots is known as mycorrhizal symbiosis.Another important role fungi play on earth's ecology is when a fungus lives in a symbiotic manner with green alga or cyanobacterium. This two species composite is known as lichen.
Lichen are organisms that inhabit woodlands, forests, as well as extreme conditions found on mountain tops, deserts, and in the arctic. Lichen can also absorb and neutralize air pollution.
Fungi are beneficial to humans in the production of antibiotics (penicillin), the making of bread and cheeses, and the manufacturing of beer and wine.
Mushrooms are used to top pizzas, put into soups, or complement grilled steaks.
Fungi organisms are also used to aid in the absorption, processing, and digestion of industrial wastes and pesticides.
Disease in humans may also result from fungi. Common infections include athletes foot, mold allergies, and ringworm.
I was glad to discover the world of fungi while out on this hike. Realizing the importance of these organisms to our planet's health and maintenance of habitats was a fun lesson to learn.
Until next time. And remember to stay on the trail.