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Fungi collage.jpg

A fungus (plural: fungi or funguses) is any member of the group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and molds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms. These organisms are classified as a kingdom, fungi, which is separate from the other eukaryotic life kingdoms of plants and animals.

A characteristic that places fungi in a different kingdom from plants, bacteria, and some protists is chitin in their cell walls. Similar to animals, fungi are heterotrophs; they acquire their food by absorbing dissolved molecules, typically by secreting digestive enzymes into their environment. Fungi do not photosynthesise. Growth is their means of mobility, except for spores (a few of which are flagellated), which may travel through the air or water. Fungi are the principal decomposers in ecological systems. These and other differences place fungi in a single group of related organisms, named the Eumycota (true fungi or Eumycetes), which share a common ancestor (form a monophyletic group), an interpretation that is also strongly supported by molecular phylogenetics. This fungal group is distinct from the structurally similar myxomycetes (slime molds) and oomycetes (water molds). The discipline of biology devoted to the study of fungi is known as mycology (from the Greek μύκης mykes, mushroom). In the past, mycology was regarded as a branch of botany, although it is now known fungi are genetically more closely related to animals than to plants.

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Geastrum triplex
Geastrum triplex, commonly known as the collared earthstar, the saucered earthstar, or the triple earthstar, is an inedible species of fungus belonging to the genus Geastrum, or earthstar fungi. First described in 1840 as Geaster triplex, several authors have suggested that Geastrum indicum, described in 1832, is the legitimate name for the species. Immature fruit bodies are spherical—somewhat resembling puffballs with pointed beaks—and are partially or completely buried in the ground. As the fungus matures, the outer layer of tissue (the exoperidium) splits into four to eight pointed segments which spread outwards and downwards, lifting and exposing the spherical inner spore sac. The spore sac contains gleba, a mass of spores and fertile mycelial tissue that when young is white and firm, but ages to becomes brown and powdery. Often, a layer of the exoperidium splits around the perimeter of the spore sac so that it appears to rest in a collar or saucer. Atop the spore sac is a small pointed beak, the peristome, which has a small hole from which spores may be released. The species is the largest of the earthstar fungi, with a tip to tip length of an expanded mature specimen reaching up to 12 centimeters (4.7 in).

Geastrum triplex is a common and widespread species found in the detritus and leaf litter of hardwood forests in many parts of the world, including Asia, Australasia, Europe, and both North and South America. Fruit bodies have been analyzed chemically to determine their lipid content, and various chemical derivatives of the fungal sterol ergosterol have been identified. The fungus has a history of use in the traditional medicines of native North America and China.

Selected species

Boletellus ananas 45219.jpg
Boletellus ananas, commonly known as the pineapple bolete, is a mushroom in the Boletaceae family, and the type species of the genus Boletellus. It is distributed in southeastern North America, northeastern South America, Asia, and New Zealand, where it grows scattered or in groups on the ground, often at the base of oak and pine trees. The fruit body is characterized by the reddish-pink (or pinkish-tan to yellowish if an older specimen) scales on the cap that are often found hanging from the edge. The pore surface on the underside of the cap is made of irregular or angular pores up to 2 mm wide that bruise a blue color. It is yellow when young but ages to a deep olive-brown color. Microscopically, B. ananas is distinguished by large spores with cross striae on the ridges and spirally encrusted hyphae in the marginal appendiculae and flesh of the stem. Previously known as Boletus ananas and Boletus coccinea (among other synonyms), the species was given its current name by William Alphonso Murrill in 1909. Two varieties of Boletellus ananas have been described. Although the mushroom may be considered edible, it is not recommended for consumption.

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Stinkhorn Springbrook.jpg
Credit: Mike Young
Two mature Aseroë rubra, lacking the dark coloured, strong smelling gleba on their surface.

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