The Fungus Among Us
See more of the Virtual Museum of Canada  
It's a Fungusful World!
Fungus in Our Lives
Fungal Science
Finding Fungi
Funky Fungi Facts
Fungal Folklore
Mushroom Models
Fungal Fun
Meet the Mushrooms: Fungi A-Z
  Fungal Science
Arthrobotrys oligospora
Fungi are so different from plants and animals that scientists have placed them in their own kingdom. It wasn't always so. Until the 1700s, biologists thought fungi were plants. Only when the microscope was invented were they able to reveal important differences.

We seldom see most of the living parts of a fungus. They lie concealed beneath the surface of its substrate—the soil, a tree, a loaf of bread, or an orange. All fungi—moulds, yeasts, mushrooms, and relatives—are masses of fine, branching threads or tubes, called hyphae (singular: hypha) spreading outwards in their quest for food.

The whole diffuse mass of hyphae is called a thallus or mycelium (plural: thalli, mycelia). Unlike a plant or animal, the body of a fungus is not divided into tissues or organs such as leaves, roots, or a nervous system .

Like plants, fungi have bodies composed of cells. But unlike plants, they lack chlorophyll, the molecule used in photosynthesis to produce sugars with the help of sunlight. Instead fungi feed themselves in an animal-like way. They utilize plant and other organic matter by releasing a variety of powerful enzymes into their surroundings. Enzymes break complex organic matter into simpler water soluble compounds. The fungi then absorb these smaller molecules into their cell and use them to grow.

Another major difference between plants and fungi is the composition of their cell walls. Cellulose is the material that adds firmness to the walls of plant cells. Fungi toughen theirs with chitin, the material that also forms the exoskeletons of insects, crabs, and lobsters.
Fungal Form
When is a Fungus Not a Fungus?
Fungal Lifestyles
Fungal Habitats
Spores: Fungi's Secret Weapon
Watch a mushroom grow! (2.2 MB quicktime movie)

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