The focus of this article is on the beneficial Fungi found in the bushlands, forests and other landscapes.
Please remember that most Fungi can be toxic and some edible Fungi can have look-a likes, this requires caution and professional identification.
I see Fungi as the quiet achievers, the angels of the environment; going about, doing good, bringing about homeostasis into the earth. Fungi possess such a uniqueness and status in the plant kingdom that should be applauded; actually they should receive a standing ovation!
At the base level of the food chain, they are vital for the health of the vegetation around them. Without Fungi all life is seriously affected.
Some facts about Fungi
- They are important recyclers for our planet; important for all life at all levels.
- They have chitin in their cell walls rather than cellulose. Chitin is the substance insects and crustaceans use to make their exoskeleton.
- They do not have chlorophyll, so they cannot synthesis their own food from the sun’s energy. Fungi must rely on dead or living matter to survive.
- Fungi reproduce by spores and not seeds. On germinating, the spore gives rise to cells called hyphae, when two hyphae unite, they start to grow and form the mycelium. The mycelium consists of a mass of hyphae which weaves throughout the soil, feeding on waste and rotting matter within the soil.
- The mycelium gives rise to the fruiting body, which exposes and identifies the fungi present. For example mushrooms.
- All ecosystems depend on the effective workings of the beneficial Fungi.
- Fungi are the invisible framework of all ecosystems. They have the important role of breaking dead or living organic matter into safe, reusable nutrients; sterilising, fertilising and stabilising. This makes them healers of the land.
- They support plants to thrive; by giving them increased drought intolerance and disease resistance.
- Fungi are placed in three categories, observed by their feeding habits:
A good example of this is when we see the Fungi fruit linked to a living plant, such as a tree. In this symbiosis relationship, the fungi entwines it’s delicate network of the many hyphae’s around the plants roots, called mycorrhiza’s. This mycorrhizal connection is how they feed and support one another. The Fungi feeds by extracting sugars and in return the Fungi supply the plant with nutrients, like phosphorous and water. This is vital for both the plant and the Fungi’s survival and health.
Studies have shown that this symbiotic relationship has demonstrated that plants grow ten times healthier.
These Fungi are mainly seen on things like rotting logs, branches, leaf litter including animal waste. They play the role of primary decomposes of the various organic matter, including other waste; returning healthy nutrients back into the soil.
The Fungi can be seen on lawns, even away from other plants; feeding on waste and toxins, enriching and healing the soil. They do this by spreading and radiating their long filamentous threads under the ground as they search for food. This process enables the nearby plants to have access to the new enriched soil.
There are specially categorised Fungi in this group, ‘special agents’ that have the potential to breakdown numerous types of waste, like paper, plastic and even some petroleum products into safe, clean nutrient soil. Wow!
They too are important in the maintenance of a healthy ecosystem. They can be seen on sick or mature trees, eating into the heart wood and making tree hollows, by rotting that one section. There would be a number of animals that would not be able to survive if these hollows were not made.
Lack of tree hollows is known to threaten a number of animal species survival rates, providing habitat for birds, possums, reptiles and other marsupials.
More interesting facts
At present there are over 249,000 species of Fungi in Australia.
To date there are approximately 70 bio-luminescent mushrooms on the Earth.
Despite their abundance and the huge importance they are to the planet and our very existence, Fungi are the most poorly studied organism.
Without Fungi all life would be seriously affected. No Fungi, means there would be no plant life, no animal life, no oxygen, no food, no humans.
There is a small poem I saw once, I don’t know who wrote it, but it said;
‘The sky, a tree, and man will survive, if man understands the tree.’
This could be said about the Fungi.
In my book, ‘Emily’, I love to share about nature; I developed a fictional wildlife park, ‘Green Coastal Wildlife Park’, to teach people about the wonders of the environment, aboriginal culture, the Australian bush and beach, native plants and animals and the connection of each, and the characters of the book, as well.
By M.A.Loveday (Lecturer and Guide on Wildlife/ Lover of Nature)