Types of Fungi - continued


Fungi with fruiting bodies large enough to be readily visible will usually belong to one of two main groups. The Basidiomycetes, or the Ascomycetes. For more on these groups click here


Gill Fungi

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This type of fungus includes our familiar edible mushroom. Most, but not all gill fungi, have a stem bearing a cap on top. The gills, or lamellae as they are also known, are on the underside of the cap. The spores line the surface of the gills. A single fruiting body may produce as many as 10,000 million spores!

The thickness of the gills, the way they are attached to the stem, and their spacing are all important ways of separating different species. There are in excess of 1,200 different species of gill fungi in Britain.




Fungi with pores.

wpe19.jpg (14636 bytes) These are fungi which have fruiting bodies similar to many of the gill mushrooms, in that they have a cap and a stem. However, boletes do not have gills on the undersurface of the cap. Instead, they have thousands of tiny tubes arranged perpendicular to the surface of the cap. The underside of the cap thus looks as if it is covered with thousands of little holes, or pores. Each hole is the end of one of the tiny cylinders, which is lined with spores. The fruiting bodies of some boletes in Britain reach sizes of 12" in diameter. Some tropical boletes may exceed 2 feet.

The size and arrangement of the pores help to identify different kinds of boletes. There are approximately 60 different species in Britain, almost all of them growing on the ground in association with trees.




Fungi with pores

wpe1A.jpg (11995 bytes) Polypores tend to have very tough, leathery or woody fruiting bodies. They are often plate-like and most grow out of tree trunks or rotting wood, although some may grow on soil.  Some of these fungi are known as Bracket Fungi, because they look like shelves growing out of the sides of trees.

The pores are located on the underside of the fruiting body and as with the boletes, are lined with spores. Some of these fungi produce a new fruiting body every year, while others produce one which continues to grow year after year. These may reach a considerable size. They may also have visible rings on them which can be counted in a similar way to growth rings in wood. There are more than 40 different species in Britain.




wpe1B.jpg (13089 bytes) Stinkhorns are truly extraordinary fungi which grow out of a structure which resembles an egg.

The fruiting body consists of a bell-shaped head mounted on a stalk. The head is covered in foul-smelling slime, which contains the spores. The smell attracts flies which crawl around in the slime, becoming covered in spores. The flies disperse the spores when they leave and go elsewhere. Two common species.



Earthballs/ Puffballs and Earth Stars

wpe28.jpg (12770 bytes) These fungi contain their spores inside a ball of some kind. The ball may be stalked or at ground level. The spore mass in the centre of the ball is solid to begin with, but later develops into a powdery mass of spores.

In Earth Stars the ball has a tough outer covering which splits and spread out like petals to form a star-shape, exposing the inner spore-containing ball. The outer covering in Earth Balls just disintegrates with time to expose the inner spore mass, while in Puff Balls, the spores are released through a small pore at the top of the ball. There are around 30 species in Britain.



Jelly Fungi

wpe1C.jpg (10866 bytes) This category includes a wide variety of fungi which produce fruiting bodies looking like shapeless blobs of jelly, or in shapes such as 'ears' and 'tongues'. They are soft, or jelly-like and can be found on trees, or on the ground. There are approximately 10 species in Britain.


Cup Fungi
cup.jpg (106820 bytes) The cup fungi belong to an entirely different group of fungi to all of those described above. The scientific name for this group is 'Ascomycetes'. All of the fungi above belong to a group called 'Basidiomycetes'. The chief difference between these two major groups is in the method of producing spores. The Ascomycetes is a large group of fungi. They are the 'spore shooters'.

There are many different kinds of Ascomycetes. Some produce a cup-shaped fruiting body, which has the spore-bearing surface on the top, rather than underneath, as in the Basidiomycetes. Most Ascomycetes are microfungi, but there are about 80 species with fruiting bodies of significant size which can be found in Britain.


*The numbers of different species in Britain quoted next to each type are approximate figures only and refer only to larger macrofungi, not microfungi.


Naming Individual Fungi

There are over 3000 larger fungi in Britain. Identifying them can be relatively easy. Fungi such as King Alfred's Cakes, are very characteristic and difficult to confuse with anything else. However, identification often requires very specialist knowledge. The experts will look at features such as:

  • The size, shape and colour of the Spores (this may require microscopic examination);

  • The colour, size, smell and texture of the Fruiting body, as well as the remains of structures which protect it as it is growing;

  • The type of Habitat where it occurs is often also very important. Many fungi grow only in very specific places, or are associated with particular kinds of trees.

  • Fruiting bodies may also be produced in characteristic Seasons. For example, Saint George's mushroom is so named because the fruiting bodies first appear around the 23rd April, which is St. George's Day.


Continue to Spore Dispersal