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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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The Cyathus type species, Cyathus striatus
Cyathus is a genus of fungi in the Nidulariaceae, a family collectively known as the bird's nest fungi. They are given this name since they resemble tiny bird's nests filled with "eggs", structures large enough to have been mistaken in the past for seeds. However, these are now known to be reproductive structures containing spores. The "eggs", or peridioles, are firmly attached to the inner surface of this fruiting body by an elastic cord of mycelia, which is known as a funiculus. The 45 species are widely distributed throughout the world and some are found in most countries, although a few exist in only one or two locales. Cyathus stercoreus is considered endangered in a number of European countries. Species of Cyathus are also known as splash cups, which refers to the fact that falling raindrops can knock the peridioles out of the open-cup fruiting body. The internal and external surfaces of this cup may be ridged longitudinally (referred to as plicate or striate); this is one example of a taxonomic characteristic that has traditionally served to distinguish between species.

Generally considered inedible, Cyathus species are saprobic, since they obtain nutrients from decomposing organic matter. They usually grow on decaying wood or woody debris, on cow and horse dung, or directly on humus-rich soil. The life cycle of this genus allows it to reproduce both sexually, with meiosis, and asexually via spores. Several Cyathus species produce bioactive compounds, some with medicinal properties, and several lignin-degrading enzymes from the genus may be useful in bioremediation and agriculture. Phylogenetic analysis is providing new insights into the evolutionary relationships between the various species in Cyathus, and has cast doubt on the validity of the older classification systems that are based on traditional taxonomic characteristics.

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Mycena californiensis 72630.jpg
Mycena californiensis is a species of fungus in the Mycenaceae family. 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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Pholiota malicola.jpg
Credit: JJ Harrison
A cluster of Pholiota malicola, photographed in Meander Forest Reserve, Tasmania, Australia.

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