It’s rather amazing that given the countless fungi and mushrooms that have called Mother Earth home for millions of years, we know so little about these fascinating organisms.
Yet we do know a few things. So, we thought it was a good idea to share some of the more interesting, fundamental, and fun facts about fungi!
Millions of Mushrooms
The number of species within the Queendom of Fungi, which is relatively unstudied, has been estimated at between 2.2 million and 3.8 million species. Of these, around 150,000 have been described.
Ascomycota Ale, Basidiomycota Breakfast
There are 7 fungal phylum (classifications), with the phyla known as Ascomycota containing about 75% of the described fungal species. Penicillium, trichoderma, and aspergillus are all within the Ascomycota phyla, as are most of the fungi used in making beer, bread, and fermented foods.
Another fungal phyla, Basidiomycota, includes most edible, medicinal, cultivated, and wild harvested mushrooms.
On the Rise
Approximately 1% of all fungi are yeasts — single-celled organisms that reproduce by self-cloning.
More than 6,000 fungal species and at least 90% of the world’s plant species engage in what’s known as mycorrhizal symbiosis, a plant-fungal relationship that’s typically mutualistic. In this relationship, in exchange for a plant’s organic molecules like sugar (created via photosynthesis), the fungus supplies water and mineral nutrients to the plant.
Grapes, citrus, melons, oaks, and pines all depend on mycorrhizal fungi. For example, over 2,000 mycorrhizal fungi species are known to associate with Douglas fir trees.
At least 95% of all plants live symbiotically with endophytic fungi, fungi that live within a plant’s tissues.
Caution: Contents Under Pressure
Due to the constant cycling of water and cytoplasm — intracellular fluid — within mycelium, as well as nutrient absorption into the mycelium via osmosis, a pressure up to three times the pressure of a car tire can be found within mushroom mycelium.
China, the United States, the Netherlands, France, and Poland are the top five mushroom producing countries in the world. Mexico, Chile, and Brazil constitute 85% of Latin America’s mushroom production.
If the entirety of earth’s history was compressed to one, 24-hour day, it’s estimated that fungi may have evolved as long as 18 hours and 40 minutes ago. Humans, on the other hand, would have existed for only one second.
Otzi the Iceman
Otzi, Europe's oldest known natural human mummy, was a man who lived between 3400 and B.C. When his mummified remains were found in 1991, two different mushrooms were found on his body: Fomes fomentarius, which was determined to be used by Otzi as a firestarter — hence its nickname the “tinder conk” — and Fomitopsis betulina, a birch polypore fungus that was likely used to treat gastrointestinal ailments.
Some fungi are parasitic to their hosts, like the highly prized Cordyceps militaris mushroom, which is an endoparasitoid, meaning that it lives inside the host organism before eventually consuming it from the inside and killing the host.
One particularly well-adapted parasitic fungi is Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, which grows in an ant’s body, takes control of its muscles, then it compels the ant to climb a plant stem, clamp its jaws on the underside of a leaf, and wait for death. Once the host dies, the fungus sends its fruit body through the ant’s head and rains spores onto the ant’s colony, infecting more ants.