Fungi are fascinating organisms of which mushrooms or cap fungi are the most complex. I get very excited when I see one and have to stop and take some photos. We have a few popping up in our bushveld every year. I know what a few of them were, but one still remains un-identified. After a lot of rain (in short burst) the mushrooms start popping up all over the lawn as well. I have always loved fungi. So much so that, although my degree states ‘Genetics’ I practically duel-majored in genetics and microbiology. Several of my modules through undergraduate were either mycology or microbiology with my core genetics modules.
Fungi are made up of chitin; hard, sturdy cellular structures similar to plants, but grow as mycelium (thread-like structures) and do not contain chlorophyll (green photosynthesising pigment)… so they are not quite plants. They obtain their nutrients from other organisms, either through decomposition or parasitism, similar to animals, but they form fruiting bodies that contain spores… so they are not quite animals either. Therefore, mushrooms seem to occupy a world between that of plants and animals. Scientists still argue about their taxonomic classification, but have placed them squarely between plants and animals under eukaryotic organisms.
Fungi increase in complexity as you move from Oomycetes (simple fungi) to Basidiomycetes (higher fungi). The groups can be simplified into three major types of fungi: moulds, yeasts and mushrooms. Note that Deuteromycota no longer exists due to it being non-spore forming stages of Ascomycota and Basidiomycota. Fungi have diverse habitats and each group has their own unique spore formation that distinguishes them from the others.
- Moulds are filamentous fungi, the ones as fluff on your bread! The compact fluff is termed mycelium and is made up of many single thread-like structures known as hyphae. Moulds also produce spores, borne on specialised reproductive organs known as conidia. Conidia are seen as little black spots on top of some of the hyphae. (Oomycetes & Zygomycetes).
- Yeasts are unicellular fungi. These are utilised in many culinary disciplines, such as beer brewing, wine-making, soy sauce production, bread baking and myco-proteins are made from these. Several nasty diseases and infection are also caused by this set of fungi, specifically Candida albicans systemic infections. Some ‘culinary mushrooms’ are also in this group, such as Morels and Turkey Foot. Technically morels and bract fungi aren’t mushrooms, but ascomycetes, the difference is that ascomycetes have pores and not gills. (Ascomycetes).
- Mushrooms are macroscopic fungi, capable of producing large fruiting bodies. This edible fruiting body is what we most often associate with mushrooms, but this is only a small part of the whole organism. The rest is usually found under the ground as a large mycelium network. The fungi spores drop onto favourable decaying matter as a nutrient source. The mycelium grows in the matter and when the weather is optimal (wet and cool) fruiting commences. First fruiting is noticeable as small buds (similar to button mushrooms) with the cap still attached to the stalk. Later the fruits mature and spread out the cap to release spores with the wind (Portobello mushrooms are buttons that have matured). (Basidiomycetes).
On to the veld mushrooms…
I came across several Beaked or Beret Earthstars, Geastrum pectinatum, of the Geastraceae Family. They are leathery and inedible. The ‘star’ term is used for the exoperidium, which is made up of 5-10 spikes. During hot and dry periods, the spikes shrivel and lower the globe (endoperidium) to the ground and may event curl around it to protect it. During rainy and wet weather, the spikes swell and lift the globe from the ground floor to expose the globe to the elements. Falling raindrops or passing animals expel puffs of spores out from the ‘beak’.
… I poke-poke them and they go poof-poof … quite amusing such simple things 😉
This is the one I have not been able to identify. My ‘Mushrooms of South Africa’ book is fairly complete, but didn’t have one that looks like this. It smelled wonderfully mushroomy… Termitomyces? Macrocybe?…
I did not eat it, hence why I am still here posting blogs 🙂
Here are some pictures;
On to the ones on the lawn… at least I could ID all of these.
Note!!! Do not eat any mushroom you cannot ID 100%, else you’ll be ☠ ☠ ☠