With the Wildlife Group fungi competition ongoing until the end of October it is worth reflecting on what fungi are and why they are so important to us. Most people think of fungi as the familiar mushroom or toadstool sticking out of the ground and, so far, competition entries have followed this line. But just as an apple is a small part of the whole tree, a mushroom is simply the fruiting body of a whole organism stretching out for many metres under the ground or through a tree.
These filaments are called hyphae – they release enzymes and absorb food. They can link to tree roots and greatly increase the spread of nutrients that a tree can get access to which is why gardeners and horticulturalists add Mycorrhizal fungus to the roots when planting trees or shrubs as we have done with the fruit trees in the Wenvoe orchards. The fungi take sugars from the tree and in return give them moisture and nutrients.
There are many 'amazing facts' about fungi. They provide us with medicines (and not just Penicillin) and were being used in the shape of yeasts to make mead 9,000 years ago. Think how many types of food use yeast! Truffles, Marmite, Quorn and cheese all depend wholly or partly on fungi. A fungus has been found which breaks down plastics in weeks rather than years and they are used to make bioethanol from crop waste. They are even being used to extract cobalt and lithium from old batteries. Synthetic rubber, even Lego, are made using an acid from fungi. But they do have a darker side wreaking havoc across the world to trees and crops.-,Honey Fungus can often be found in our local woods where it kills trees and shrubs.
So there is a lot more to fungi than the occasional pretty red and white spotted mushroom growing under a Birch tree or the punnets in your local supermarket. They deserve respect and we hope that the competition will help all of us to be more aware of what they can do for us