2017 - Irish Fungi (Mushrooms)

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Mushrooms are the best know representatives of a group of 'plants' called the Fungi. Fungi are neither green plants nor animals. Worldwide there are about 125,000 known fungi; Ireland has about 3500. For such a small island as ours this represents a great biodiversity of fungi. The greater the variety of trees, the greater the diversity of fungi. Some of our best know fungi are found in woodland habitats and grasslands.

Remember you can use My sightings (red menu list at the top right of this page) to keep track on your own fungi sightings.

Reproduction in the fungi
Mushrooms are the reproductive organs of the fungus. They often only last a few days. The 'body' of the mushroom is below ground and is made up of thousands of thread-like structures called hyphae. The above-ground reproductive structure produces spores. The spores are dispersed from the fungus and germinate to produce a new fungal body elsewhere.

What they eat
Green plants use sunlight to make their own food. They get minerals from the soil. Animals have to hunt for their food, or eat plants. They digest it internally (okay, there are exceptions!). Fungi feed on dead material in most cases. For example, dead woodland plants or animals. They release their digestive enzymes out on to the food they are digesting and absorb it into its body. The body of the fungus is called the mycelium.

Text and images © Paul Whelan, 2007



What sort of habitats do they like?
Fungi will grow anywhere there is food for them. However, their habitat must be undisturbed (say unploughed, for example) and free from pesticides. So it is unlikely you will find them on well maintained lawns or parkland or on pathways. Undisturbed grassland may show the well know fairy-rings. They are simply areas where the reproductive or fruiting part of the fungus comes to the surface to release its spores. The mycelium or main body of the fungus lies below the surface of the grass.
Woodlands contain a great diversity of fungi. They have much to feed on there; dead leaves, dead trees, dead animals. Some fungi feed on living things. Trees are infected with many fungal diseases, of course some fungi have a balanced symbiotic relationship with trees. Scots pine, oak, beech and birch are associated with a rich biodiversity of fungi.

Edible fungi
Some fungi are edible, but many are not. Never guess that you can eat one. Always refer to an expert if you want to include them in your diet. A good reference is How to Identify Edible Mushrooms by Harding, Lyon and Tomblin, published by HarperCollins.