Fascinating facts about fungi

Photograph of fly agaric
Fly agaric fungi by a fallen tree (Photo: Jill Butler/WTML)

Fungi are popping up all over the place at this time of year. They especially like to grow on dead wood and leaves so why not see how many types you can spot on your next woodland walk?

Fungi come in all sorts of colours and weird and wonderful shapes! But remember: some are extremely poisonous so NEVER touch them!

Here are a few of our favourite fungi facts:

  1. The things that we call fungi, such as mushrooms, toadstools and giant puffballs, are really just the ‘fruiting bodies’ of the fungus – a bit like the flowers of a plant. The fruiting bodies contain the spores, which are like microscopic seeds. The fungus itself is made up of lots of tiny threads that live inside the thing it feeds on.
  2. There are many thousands of different types of fungi in the UK, but only about 3,000 that are big enough to see.
  3. Fungi feed on dead plants and animals and turn them into the food for plants. Without fungi, nothing would grow. 
  4. Fungi help us produce food too. Yeast is a fungus and we use it to make bread. And next time you bite into a yummy bar of chocolate, thank a fungus! It’s used to take the bitterness out of the cocoa beans.
  5. Some skin diseases, such as athlete’s foot, are caused by a fungus. It’s a microscopic fungus though, so you won’t see any mushrooms growing between your toes!
  6. Fungi help us cure diseases too. Lots of medicines are made from fungi, such as the antibiotic penicillin.
  7. The smelliest fungus is the stinkhorn. Its pooey pong attracts insects and they help to spread its spores.
  8. There are 14 species of poisonous mushrooms in the UK, and some are deadly.  You’ll definitely want to steer clear of the death cap, destroying angel, and satan’s bolete!
  9. Fairy rings are formed where a fungus has eaten up all the nutrients in the soil so it has to keep spreading out in a bigger circle every year. Sometimes you can see the ring of mushrooms but sometimes there’s just a circle of dark green grass where the fungus is growing. Some people think the rings are where fairies have been dancing though!

Learn more about fungi: head off on an autumn fungi hunt.

Which fungi have you spotted?

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