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Portal:Fungi

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Introduction

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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.

Selected article

Three Amanita muscaria mushrooms showing various growth stages.
Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric or fly Amanita, is a poisonous and psychoactive basidiomycete fungus, one of many in the genus Amanita. Native throughout the temperate and boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere, Amanita muscaria has been unintentionally introduced to many countries in the Southern Hemisphere, generally as a symbiont with pine plantations, and is now a true cosmopolitan species. It associates with various deciduous and coniferous trees. The quintessential toadstool, it is a large white-gilled, white-spotted, usually deep red mushroom, one of the most recognizable and widely encountered in popular culture. Several subspecies, with differing cap colour have been recognised to date, including the brown regalis (considered a separate species), the yellow-orange flavivolata, guessowii, and formosa, and the pinkish persicina. Genetic studies published in 2006 and 2008 show several sharply delineated clades which may represent separate species.

Although generally considered poisonous, it has been consumed as a food in parts of Europe, Asia, and North America after parboiling in plentiful water. However, Amanita muscaria is now primarily famed for its hallucinogenic properties with its main psychoactive constituent being the compound muscimol. It was used as an intoxicant and entheogen by the peoples of Siberia and has a religious significance in these cultures. There has been much speculation on traditional use of this mushroom as an intoxicant existed beyond Siberia, however, such traditions are far less well-documented. The American banker and amateur ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson proposed the fly agaric was in fact the Soma talked about in the ancient Rig Veda texts of India; although this theory has been refuted by anthropologists, it gained common credence when first published in 1968.

The common name in English is thought to have been derived from its European use as an insecticide, when sprinkled in milk. The fly-killing agent is now known to be ibotenic acid. An alternative derivation proposes that the term fly- refers not to insects as such but rather the delirium resulting from consumption of the fungus. This is based on the medieval belief that flies could enter a person's head and cause mental illness.

Selected species

Entoloma sinuatum group.JPG
Entoloma sinuatum (commonly known as the livid entoloma, livid agaric, livid pinkgill, leaden entoloma, and lead poisoner) is a poisonous mushroom found across Europe and North America. Some guidebooks refer to it by its older scientific names of Entoloma lividum or Rhodophyllus sinuatus. Entoloma is a genus of pink-spored fungi, of which this species is the largest. Occurring in parks or deciduous woodlands in late summer and autumn, it has an ivory to light grey-brown cap up to 20 cm (8 in) across, with a whitish stem and pink free gills.

It may be mistaken for the edible St Georges' mushroom (Calocybe gambosa), or miller (Clitopilus prunulus) and has been responsible for many cases of mushroom poisoning in Europe. E. sinuatum causes primarily gastrointestinal problems that, though not generally life-threatening, have been described as highly unpleasant. It is generally not considered to be lethal, although one source has reported deaths from the consumption of this mushroom.

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Haeckel Lichenes.jpg
Credit: Ernst Haeckel
An illustration of various species of Lichen, from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur.

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