BLOG: UK Fungus Day: Celebrating fantastic fungi

5 October 2018

The day is all about celebrating the amazing importance of fungi to life on this planet as without its recycling activities, the world’s ecosystems would soon run out of nutrients.

What is a fungus?

So what exactly are fungi, and why are they so special? A fungus is a living organism but in a kingdom of its own, separate from the plant and animal kingdoms. The cells of a fungus have a nuclei like animals, but no chlorophyll like plants. They include mushrooms, toadstools and moulds.

The mushrooms and toadstools we see above ground are only a tiny part of the whole fungus – the fruiting part.The vast majority of a fungus lives out of sight, beneath the soil or in rotting wood. A fungus can grow independently in soil or water, but also it can grow symbiotically on plants, trees and animals.

How many fungi are there?

There are thought to be over 5.1 million fungi species in existence, 95% of which haven’t yet been recorded by scientists. There are more than 3,000 different kinds of fungi in the UK, of which just 50 are good to eat.

How do fungi grow and reproduce?

Fungi have spores called hyphae. They travel on the wind, via water or via insects. The larger fungi are either spore droppers and spore shooters. The spore droppers let their spores fall to the ground and are carried on the wind. The spore shooters release their spores by shooting them out of the tips.

What is the relationship between fungi and trees?

Fungi are essential to our woodland ecosystems. They break down dead plants and wood, releasing nutrients to go back into the soil. Trees and fungi have a complicated symbiotic relationship, supplying each other with essential nutrients and minerals; a relationship which has lasted more than 130 million years.

How do humans use fungi?

Humans have been eating and using fungi to produce food for thousands of years.

Mushrooms – from Japanese Shiitake (pictured below) to Porcini, mushrooms are a popular foodie treat in cultures around the world.

Yeasts – are used for baking bread, brewing alcohol or fermenting soya bean products (soy sauce, tempeh) and flavouring cheeses (Stilton, Roquefort).

Get out and about in Greater Manchester’s woodlands this autumn and see what marvellous mushrooms you can spot! Download the sheet below to help you with your ID and share your snaps with us on twitter and Instagram @cityoftreesmcr. Also have a go at our Weird Mushrooms quiz!