Because some fungi, including a lot of different species of mushrooms, grow out of the ground you would think that fungi are plants. Quietly contrary, fungi are not classified as plants, but why are fungi not plants?
Fungi are not plants because plants make their own food with the help of sunlight (this process is called photosynthesis). While fungi, on the other hand, get their nutrients through the degradation of animal and plant remains (a process called saprophytes).
Fungi contribute to the overall maintenance of the ecosystem as they create balance and carbon cycling. They are now even considered a new kingdom that differs from plants and animals called the fungi kingdom.
Why fungi don't belong in the plant kingdom
Fungus (plural: fungi) is a group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms like mold, smuts, etc...
For over 400 years, scientists considered fungi to be part of the plant kingdom. This was because they have a few similarities with plants - both fungi and plants are immobile, which means they can't move. They also both have cell walls and grow in soil.
Up till the 1960s, fungi were classified as plants. However, since then, scientists have found out a different kingdom that suits fungi better.
The fungi kingdom was created for all the different kinds of fungi like yeasts, molds, smuts, rusts, mildews, and mushrooms.
So, why did fungi got it's own classifacation?
Technology and research have been advanced since the 1960s, and so the researchers discovered that fungi actually have unique physical, chemical, and genetic traits that separate them from plants.
Below is a list of difference between fungi and plants:
- Fungi have cell walls made out of chitin, while plant cell walls are made out of cellulose (glucose).
- Fungi absorb nutrients from other organisms, while plants make their own food.
- Fungi store food in glycogen form, while plants store it as starch.
- Fungi have spores, while plants have seeds and pollen.
- Fungi have filaments, while plants have stems, leaves, and roots.
- Fungi digest food before uptake, while plants don't digest their food (except carnivorous plants).
- Looking from a food chain perspective, fungi are decomposers, while plants are producers.
Fungi are neither animals nor plants. Although it was considered before as a plant, it was later on discovered to have its own kingdom where it truly belongs.
Although it was proven that fungi are distinct from plants, their ancestors are still a question. On the other hand, in the later years, it was found out that fungi are now more relatively close to animals.
The diversity of fungi
Photo by: Alison Harrington (AlisonHarrington)
Fungi live not only above the ground but also grow below the soil. They are even existing in water environments, including oceans, lakes, and rivers. Fungi is everywhere, this is what makes it so interesting.
There is a type of mushroom that is surprisingly produced on insects. It is called the Cordyceps nutans (see picture above). Meanwhile, in New Zealand, a type of fungi was found that has a stem but no gills. It is called the Leratiomyces erythrocephalus that has a similar appearance to an underground fungus. There is also the Corollospora, a representative of ocean fungus.
There are fungi in all kinds of sizes and colors, many of these fungi we have never seen before, but they do exist.
According to Wikipedia, there are around 120, 000 known species under the classification of fungi. However, according to scientists, fungi can have between 1 and 5 million different species (Source: Botanical Society of America), which means that they are the second-largest guild, following insects on Earth. Nonetheless, fungi are diverse organisms, but not all of them have been discovered yet.
But with the rising technologies that the modern era has made available, scientists are confident to continue searching for the millions of other species under this kingdom.
If you like this article, also check out: Is it OK to Put Earthworms in Potted Plants?
The importance of fungi
All animals and plants cannot live without the presence of fungi. Recent studies show that even plants that undergo photosynthesis for nutrients would still need fungi. On the other hand, fungi are also beneficial for the lives of human beings:
Fungi are used in many industrial and household processes, for example when you make bread you use a particular kind of yeast as an ingredient, it's also used to make wine, beer, and certain cheeses.
The yeast that is used to make these products is actually not harmful to humans. It actually keeps your digestive system healthy and in balance.
Another example of fungi is mushrooms. Mushrooms are being cultivated to be food as the final product. It is known for its beneficial facts like its richness in Vitamin B, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid. These health properties are can help humans to protect their hearts from diseases. It is why many dishes have included mushrooms in their recipe.
Meanwhile, it is also good for red blood cells, digestive systems, and maintaining healthy-looking skin.
2. Medicinal supplies and ornaments
Back in 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered the first series of antibiotics called penicillin, which was produced by a type of mold that is under the kingdom classification of fungi. This kingdom is also known to produce a variety of physiologically active substances that are helpful for the health improvement of humans.
3. Some fungi are used to create dye
Aside from being an important biological resource for medication, pigments from mushrooms are also used as dyes.
The blue-green dye can be extracted from certain mushrooms, which can then be used as a dye for wool or other products.
3. Fungi help trees and other plants to grow
Some fungi can have large networks of fine threads below the surface which collect and draw water and nutrients to the main part of the fungus.
Because many kinds of mushrooms and other fungi grow beside other trees and plants naturally, the fungi will bring water and nutrients to the plants. The water and nutrients can then be absorbed by plants and trees, which will help them grow.
4. Fungi makes laundry cleaners more effective
According to Nationalgeographic, a Danish company uses fungi to make laundry cleaners more effective.
They extract enzymes from mushrooms and use these in the laundry cleaners. The enzymes that are used will break down and remove stains that are in clothes.
The enzymes can easily break down natural stains like chocolate or grass-stains, which will lead to cleaner clothes that can be washed at lower temperatures.