Sulphur tuft, a poisonous mushroom, growing on an old tree stump Mushrooms, toadstools, brackets, yeasts, moulds and mildews are not plants, but fungi. They form one of the great groups, or kingdoms, of living things. Fungi cannot make their own food, so they take in dead plant and animal material from the soil or grow on living plants and animals. Fungi reproduce by sending spores into the air. Mushrooms and toadstools have caps raised up from the ground on stalks. The spores fall from beneath the cap and are carried away on a breeze.
Fungi are rotters. They grow networks of thin, pale threads, called hyphae, into the bodies of dead and dying plants and animals and their waste. These threads, which produce chemicals called enzymes, can break down the organic matter into nutrients, which the fungi then absorbs. The enzymes will even decompose lignin, a substance found in wood.
In the soil, fungi are, along with bacteria, earthworms and various micro-organisms, nature’s great recyclers. They return the nutrients in dead animal and plant matter or animal droppings back into the soil.
It is not known how many species of fungus exist: there are probably more than 1.5 million.
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