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Portal:Fungi

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A fungus is any member of a large group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and molds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms. The Fungi are classified as a kingdom that is separate from plants and animals. The discipline of biology devoted to the study of fungi is known as mycology or fungal biology, which is historically regarded as a branch of botany, even though genetic studies have shown that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants. Fungi reproduce via spores and grow as hyphae, mycelia, and futher specialized structures. Fungal spores are often produced on specialized structures or in fruiting bodies, such as the head of a mushroom. Abundant worldwide, most fungi are mostly invisible to the naked eye because of the small size of their structures, and their cryptic lifestyles in soil, on dead matter, and as symbionts of plants, animals, or other fungi. Fungi perform an essential role in the decomposition of organic matter and have fundamental roles in nutrient cycling and exchange. They have long been used as a direct source of food, such as mushrooms and truffles, as a leavening agent for bread, and in fermentation of various food products, such as wine, beer, and soy sauce.

Since the 1940s, fungi have been used for the production of antibiotics, and, more recently, various enzymes produced by fungi are used industrially and in detergents. Fungi are also used as biological agents to control weeds and pests. Many species produce bioactive compounds called mycotoxins, such as alkaloids and polyketides, that are toxic to animals including humans. The fruiting structures of a few species are consumed recreationally or in traditional ceremonies as a source of psychotropic compounds. Fungi can break down manufactured materials and buildings, and become significant pathogens of humans and other animals. Losses of crops due to fungal diseases or food spoilage can have a large impact on human food supplies and local economies. Despite their importance on human affairs, little is known of the true biodiversity of Kingdom Fungi, which has been estimated at around 1.5 million species, with about 5% of these having been formally classified.

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Geastrum quadrifidum
Geastrum quadrifidum, commonly known as the rayed earthstar or four-footed earthstar, is an inedible species of mushroom belonging to the genus Geastrum, or earthstar fungi. First described scientifically by Christian Hendrik Persoon in 1794, G. quadrifidum is a cosmopolitan—but not common—species of Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australasia. The fungus is a saprobe, feeding off decomposing organic matter present in the soil and litter of coniferous forests.

The small, tough, fruit bodies are grayish-brown balls that are initially enclosed by a skin, or peridium, made up of four distinct layers of tissue. The outer tissue layer splits to form star-like rays and expose a circular spore case. Inside the spore case is the gleba—fertile spore-producing tissue that is white and firm when young, but becomes brown and powdery in age. The grayish-brown spore case is set on a short, slender stalk, and has a well-defined narrow pore at the top where mature spores may escape. Fully expanded, the fruit body reaches dimensions up to 2–3 cm (0.8–1.2 in) wide and up to about 3 cm (1.2 in) tall. The outer skin is purplish-brown, with four or five cream or yellowish-brown colored rays that have their tips stuck in the substrate. There is a flat mat of interwoven mycelia between ray tips. The spores are spherical, warty, and have a diameter of up to 6 µm. Geastrum quadrifidum is one of a number of earthstars whose rays arch downward as they mature, lifting the spore sac upward, high enough to catch air currents that disseminate the spores into new habitats. The species is easily confused with Geastrum fornicatum, a larger earthstar without a well-defined pore mouth.

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Paxillus involutus, commonly known as the brown roll-rim or common roll-rim, or poison pax, is a poisonous basidiomycete fungus, previously considered edible and eaten widely in Eastern and Central Europe. It had been recognized as causing gastric upsets when eaten raw, but was more recently implicated in a potentially fatal immune hemolysis in those who had consumed the mushroom without ill-effects for years. It often grows near edible mushrooms as well which makes it harder to identify by amateur mushroomers.

It is widely distributed across the Northern Hemisphere and has been accidentally introduced to Australia, New Zealand, and South America; it is likely to have been transported in soil of European trees to those countries. Various shades of brown in color, the fruiting body resembles a brown wooden top and may be found in deciduous and coniferous woods, and grassy areas in later summer and autumn. The cap bears a distinctive inrolled rim and decurrent gills which may be pore-like close to the stipe. Although it has gills, it is more closely related to the pored boletes than to typical gilled mushrooms.

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