What Are Fungi?

Fungi have an unbounded love of life and death. Converting waste and corpses into resources, they are crucial to global metabolism. Inverting our habit of consumption, fungi digest their food before they eat it. They excrete enzymes onto organic materials and then absorb the soluble, predigested meals.

What we see in the wild is only the tip of the fungi; they spread gregariously underground. A famed Michigan fungus—one individual fungus with identical genes throughout—has been expanding for over 1,500 years. It spans 37 acres and weighs over 11 tons!

Unlike animals and plants which form embryos, fungi form propagules--dormant or reproductive environmentally-resistant spores. The propagules can be blown about for thousands of years before moisture startles them into fungi-hood. They are maestros of reproduction. Their bodies are composed of threads, and during a sexual phase, many types of fungi fuse "complementary" threads. At other stages, they just clone-out and pinch off spores.

"And fungi are fungi; they're like nobody else on Earth." - Jun Takami.


Top: Crucial to global metabolism, fungi transform waste and dead bodies into life sustaining resources. (Photograph by Lois Brynes)

Bottom: Stages in the life of Amanita. (Illustration by Christie Lyons)

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