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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.

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Sarcoscypha coccinea
Sarcoscypha coccinea, commonly known as the scarlet elf cup, or the scarlet cup, is a species of fungus in the Sarcoscyphaceae family of the Pezizales order. The fungus, widely distributed in the northern hemisphere, has been found in Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Australia. The type species of the genus Sarcoscypha, it has been known by many names since its first appearance in the scientific literature in 1772. Phylogenetic analysis shows the species to be most closely related to other Sarcoscypha species that contain numerous small oil droplets in their spores, such as the North Atlantic island species S. macaronesica. Due to similar physical appearances and sometimes overlapping distributions, S. coccinea has often been confused with S. occidentalis, S. austriaca, and S. dudleyi.

The saprobic fungus grows on decaying sticks and branches in damp spots on forest floors, generally buried under leaf litter or in the soil. The cup-shaped fruit bodies are usually produced during the cooler months of winter and early spring. The brilliant red interior of the cups—from which both the common and scientific names are derived—contrasts with the lighter-colored exterior. The edibility of the fruit bodies is not clearly established, but its small size, tough texture and insubstantial fruitings would dissuade most people from collecting for the table. The fungus has been used medicinally by the Oneida Indians, and also as a colorful component of table decorations in England. The species Molliardiomyces eucoccinea is an imperfect form of the fungus that lacks a sexually reproductive stage in its life cycle.

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Leucopholiota decorosa 111043.jpg
Leucopholiota decorosa is a species of fungus in the Tricholomataceae family of mushrooms. Commonly known as the decorated Pholiota, it is distinguished by its fruit body which is covered with pointed brown, curved scales on the cap and stem, and by its white gills. Found in the eastern United States, France, and Pakistan, it is saprobic, growing on the decaying wood of hardwood trees. L. decorosa was first described by American mycologist Charles Horton Peck as Agaricus decorosus in 1873, and the species has been transferred to several genera in its history, including Tricholoma, Tricholomopsis, Armillaria, and Floccularia. Three American mycologists considered the species unique enough to warrant its own genus, and transferred it into the new genus Leucopholiota in a 1996 publication. Lookalike species with similar colors and scaly fruit bodies include Pholiota squarrosoides, Phaeomarasmius erinaceellus, and Leucopholiota lignicola. L. decorosa is considered an edible mushroom.

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Hypholoma fasciculare LC0091.jpg
Credit: Jörg Hempel
A clump of Hypholoma fasciculare, a common woodland mushroom.

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