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The Fungi Portal

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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, which is often 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, which are often produced on specialized structures or in fruiting bodies, such as the head of a mushroom. Abundant worldwide, most fungi are inconspicuous 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 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

Mycena californiensis 72630.jpg
Mycena californiensis is a species of fungus in the family Mycenaceae. It is a common and abundant species in the coastal oak woodlands of California, where it grows saprobically, feeding on the fallen leaves and acorns of various oak species. First described in 1860 by Berkeley and Curtis, the species was collected four years earlier during an exploring and surveying expedition. It was subsequently considered a doubtful species by later Mycena researchers, until a 1999 publication validated the taxon. Mycena elegantula is considered a synonym.

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