Mushrooms and fungi aren’t plants. They belong to the Kingdom Fungi. Plants have their own kingdom (Kingdom Plantae). And so do animals (Kingdom Animalia). And so do three different kinds of tiny life forms: Bacteria, Protozoa, and Chromista. Kingdoms are a way that scientists organize the different kinds of things that are alive on the Earth. Think about all your toys. How would you organize them into categories? One way might be: Board Games, Puzzles, Things You Can Stack, Things With Wheels, Dolls, and so on. These categories are like Kingdoms.
Fungi are so important to life on Earth. As we learn in this video, they break down (decompose) dead things like plant matter and wood. But there are also fungi that specialize in eating a dead tree’s twigs, others that specialize in eating its leaves, and others that specialize in its seeds, bark, and dense heartwood. Fungi also eat hooves and feathers and skin and other parts of once-living animals. They turn nature’s garbage into nutrients that can be used by other things in order to thrive.
Some kinds of fungi aren’t decomposers at all; they are plant partners. They attach themselves to the roots of certain trees, to help them reach water and nutrients in the soil. In return, they feed on sugars produced in the tree’s roots. The fungi and the trees have a symbiotic relationship—they help each other.
There are many more fascinating things to learn about mushrooms. Here are a couple of websites to get you started, with lots of pictures to look at:
If there’s a mycological society in your area, ask your parents to take you on a mushroom walk, with experts! Here is the website for the New York Mycological Society.
Most importantly, NEVER EAT a mushroom that you find. Some of them are deadly poison and even the experts can have a hard time telling the difference between those that are safe and those that are not. Look only, and take pictures, and if your parents say it’s OK, pick a few to make spore prints.
Don’t forget to write in to this website to tell us about any mushrooms you find! And send us your pictures!!