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Green anise funnel (Clitocybe odora)

Green anise funnel ( Clitocybe odora )

Classification : Creature
Domain : Eukaryotes (eukaryota)
without rank: Amorphea
without rank: Opisthokonta
without rank: Nucletmycea
Empire : Mushrooms
Scientific name
Dead Trumpet ( Craterellus cornucopioides )
Hardwood Hornling ( Calocera cornea )

The mushrooms (Fungi) form the third great kingdom of eukaryotic organisms next to the animals (Animalia) and the plants (Plantae). Like the plants to which they have long been counted, they are sedentary, but they cannot photosynthesize . Therefore, like animals, they have to nourish themselves by ingesting organic substances ( heterotrophy ), which they ingest in dissolved form from the environment. As far as we know today, fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants. They include above all multicellular cells such as the mushroom , but also single cells such as baker's yeast as well as coenocytic forms with many cell nuclei , but without cellular subdivision.

The science of mushrooms is mycology .


The word mushroom ( Old High German  buliz ) is borrowed from Latin bōlētus ; the further origin is unclear. The word is probably related to the ancient Greek βωλίτης bolites mushroom ; Modern Greek βωλίτης volítis called boletus ( Boletus ), particularly the porcini ( βωλίτης ο εδώδιμος ), but also the Satan Boletus ( βωλίτης ο σατανάς ).

The botanical name Fungi ( Latin fungus 'mushroom') can be traced back to ancient Greek σφόγγος sphóngos ; this originally referred to sponges . Since mushrooms soak up water just like sponges, the term was transferred to mushrooms in the course of its history.

In the German-speaking world, the terms mushroom and sponge or mushroom coexist . The species with a fleshy consistency were seen as mushrooms and those with a firmer wood, leather or cork-like tissue as sponges. At the same time, however, it was recognized that this classification does not make sense from a scientific point of view: some very similar species that belong to the same group should have been divided into the two categories; moreover, one and the same species would have belonged to the mushrooms in its youth and to the sponges in old age or vice versa. Sometimes the edible species were understood by sponges and the inedible species by mushrooms . But even this classification is untenable. The name Schwammerl still prevails in the south-east of the German-speaking area , while in High German it was replaced by mushroom .

Mycology , the word component mycetes and similar terms are derived from the ancient Greek μύκης mýkēs 'mushroom' (plural μύκητες mýkētes ).

Comparison with plants and animals

After the mushrooms were assigned to the realm of plants from antiquity until the late 20th century due to their sedentary way of life , today they are considered to be a separate realm and more closely related to animals than to plants based on phylogenetic , biochemical and anatomical findings . Like the animals, they belong to the family group ( taxon ) Opisthokonta . The separation of the fungi from the plants was first proposed in 1969 by Robert Whittaker .

Fungi, like animals (which in biology also includes humans), are heterotrophic (especially chemoorganotrophic ) and feed on organic nutrients from their environment, which they usually break down by releasing enzymes and thus make them soluble and available for themselves. Another thing that fungi and animals have in common is that both produce the polysaccharide glycogen as a storage substance, while plants produce starch . The demarcation from the animal kingdom is not based on the immobility of the mushrooms, since some animals, such as sponges or hard corals , spend most of their lives stationary. Significant differences to animals are in the ultrastructure , for example in the presence of cell walls and vacuoles (as in plants).

The main difference between fungi and plants is the absence of plastids and thus photosynthesis based on chlorophyll . In addition, the cell wall of most fungi contains, in addition to other polysaccharides, chitin , which is not found in the plant kingdom but is the main component of the arthropod's exoskeleton . Furthermore, the fungi lack the polysaccharide cellulose, which is characteristic of plants .

A fundamental difference to the other more highly organized living beings is that - apart from the formation of complex structures such as the fruiting bodies  - every part of the organism is self-sufficient and there is no communication between the parts. A daily rhythm of its own , such as that in animals and plants, seems to be an exception at best with mushrooms.

Shape and structure

Mycelium of an oyster mushroom on coffee grounds

The vegetation body of most mushrooms is a poorly differentiated thallus , which consists of microscopically fine (2–10 µm ), filamentous hyphae . These form a widely branched mycelium , which spreads in or on a solid substrate , for example soil, wood or other living or dead organic tissue. Many mushrooms also form fruiting bodies that stand out from the substrate (e.g. the hats of the mushrooms ) and also consist of hyphae (see below). There are also unicellular fungi such as yeast .

Hyphae can be subdivided into cells by transverse septa , each cell containing one or two nuclei, or they can be unseptate (coenocytic) and contain many nuclei that move freely with the plasma flow (which is also characteristic of plants but does not occur in Metazoa) can. The septa, too, are not complete borders like the cell walls of plants, but each have a pore in their center (e.g. the doliporus in the mushrooms), which enables a transition between the cytoplasm and organelles, including nuclei in some cases. That is why David H. Jennings and Gernot Lysek write in their book Fungal Biology that the septa are not transverse walls and that the hyphae of the fungi are basically not divided into cells, but rather form a cytoplasmic continuum. The septa increase the strength of the hyphae; instead, bar-like structures are found in unseptated hyphae.

Plant parasitic fungi often form haustoria (suction organs). These turn inside plant cells to absorb nutrients. Some ground-dwelling, carnivorous (carnivorous) fungi are able to use their hyphae to form snare traps for small roundworms (nematodes) (see also nematophagous fungi ). When crawling through, the nematodes are held in place by the fact that the hyphae diameter of the snare hypha increases rapidly and the snare opening is thus rapidly reduced. Another modification of vegetative hyphae are the substrate or aerial hyphae: Several bundles of hyphae lie next to each other and form macroscopically visible hyphae strands (synnemata), from which, depending on the milieu or environmental change, either persistent organs (sclerotia, chlamydospores) or asexually generated spores can arise (Conidiospores).

Section through a perithezium

The fruiting bodies of the large mushrooms, which can be hat-shaped, club-shaped, bulbous or crust-shaped, consist of intertwined hyphae, which form a sham tissue ( plectenchyma ). The fruiting bodies are only a small part of the entire organism and are used to reproduce, persist and spread through the formation of spores that result from meiosis . In many mushrooms, the spores are formed in special layers of the fruiting body, the hymenia . In the case of mushrooms, the fruit layer is under the hat and covers the surfaces of the strips, lamellae or tubes. In many sac fungi , the hymenium is located just below the surface of the fruiting body in small chambers, the perithecia .

Nutrition and growth

Fungi feed saprotrophically by absorbing dissolved nutrients through the surface of their hyphae. To break down macromolecular , insoluble food sources, they secrete enzymes that correspond to the digestive enzymes of animals (and humans).

The hyphae grow apically (at the tip), as do the root hairs and pollen tubes of the plants, but in contrast to thread-like green algae . They branch out through new tips that sprout laterally, but can also fuse with one another at the tips (anastomosis) and thus form networks.

Four zones can be distinguished in a spreading mycelium:

  • the growth zone in the periphery, which consists of the growing ends of the hyphae,
  • the inwardly adjoining absorption zone , in which nutrients are absorbed from the environment,
  • the storage zone , in which some of the nutrients are stored in the form of reserve substances,
  • and the central senescence zone, where old hyphae areas can turn dark and eventually dissolve.

In the growth zone wander membrane-enclosed vesicles that when vesicles are referred to hyphal and gather there which also microscopically visible tip body . Eventually, they connect to the membrane at the top, releasing their contents into the expanding wall beyond the membrane. The growth is driven by the absorption of electrolyte , in particular potassium - ions , and water in the absorption zone. As with plants and algae, this increases the turgor , the pressure on the surrounding wall, and it expands at the point (the tip of the hyphae) where it can be stretched. The transport of vesicles occurs along actin - microfilaments , but also seem microtubules to be for hosting the movement of importance.

In addition to potassium and other inorganic electrolytes, the hypha also absorbs soluble carbohydrates (sugar) and amino acids , the soluble monomers of proteins , as nutrients in the absorption area. It does this by exporting protons (H + ) through the membrane using a protein called a proton pump . This strongly acidifies the surrounding medium and creates an electrochemical gradient . The enzymes for the external "digestion" ( hydrolysis ) of macromolecular food sources are excreted at the tip of the hyphae.

In principle, hyphae can continue to grow indefinitely as long as favorable conditions exist and, in particular, nutrients are available. The growth is not directed chemotropically ; H. the hyphae do not grow towards organic food sources; rather, the mycelium spreads evenly in all directions if possible.

This trophic growth ends when there is no more nutrients or oxygen available, or when other external factors stimulate reproduction. This is called the transition from trophophase to idiophase . In the idiophase, in contrast to the trophophase, secondary substances are formed (cf. secondary plant substances ) which are not required for mere growth, and / or special structures are formed for reproduction. The end of the trophophase is irreversible for the respective hyphal tip.

Reproduction and reproduction

Most mushrooms reproduce predominantly or exclusively asexually (asexually). In many molds and in general with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, no sexual processes are known. Sexual and predominantly asexual reproduction takes place via the formation and spread of spores . Gametes (germ cells) only occur in potty or flagellate mushrooms .

Asexual reproduction

Asexually, the unicellular spores are either pinched off at the ends of the hyphae ( conidia ), or sporangia are formed, inside of which spores arise in different ways. The spores are then released, spread and eventually germinate into new mycelia. The unicellular yeasts multiply (with the exception of the fission yeast ) by sprouting : After a nucleus division , an outgrowth forms into which one of the daughter nuclei migrates and which is then pinched off. In addition, most fungi can multiply by fragmenting their spreading mycelia because each part of the mycelium is able to develop as an independent organism.

Sexual reproduction

Fungi are normally haploid , so they only have a single set of chromosomes in their cell nuclei , and only go through a short diploid phase with two sets of chromosomes during sexual reproduction . In between there is a dinuclear or dikaryotic phase in the case of the mushrooms and most of the sac fungi , which is not known in other living beings. In this phase each cell contains two haploid nuclei of different "parental" origins. The sequence of sexual processes differs greatly in the various systematic departments of mushrooms.

Scheme of buckling in mushroom stands

In the mushrooms , the transition from the haploid to the diploid phase is initiated by the fact that two haploid mycelia combine to form a network in which their hyphae fuse apically in pairs ( anastomosis ). This results in a dikaryotic mycelium, in which both nuclei divide synchronously before each cell division and each daughter cell then receives two nuclei of different origins. The correct allocation of the nuclei is ensured by the formation of a buckle on the side , through which one of the four nuclei gets into one of the daughter cells. The dikaryotic mycelium can spread purely vegetatively for a long time. The diploid phase only begins when the two nuclei of a dikaryon (a binuclear cell) fuse ( karyogamy ). This happens in the fruiting body that grows out of the substrate as a hat , where the ends of dikaryotic hyphae swell and develop into the characteristic basidia , after which the mushrooms are also known as basidiomycota . In each basidia, four haploid cell nuclei result from the fusion of the two nuclei and subsequent meiosis. At the same time, the base forms the four processes into which a nucleus then immigrates. The processes are pinched off and each develop into a basidiospore, which is finally actively thrown off.

In the case of filamentous fungi adjacent hyphae form haploid mycelia multinucleated called gametangia , which as ascogonium and antheridium be referred to. The ascogon usually carries a thin hypha, the trichogyne, through which the contents of the antheridium enter the ascogon ( plasmogamy ). The cores of different origins are located close to one another (core pairing), but do not yet merge with one another. Dikaryotic (or paired) hyphae now grow out of the ascogon. Finally, a special cell division takes place in the apical cell, the hook formation, which is similar to the buckle formation in the mushrooms: the hyphal tip bends back like a hook, the two nuclei divide synchronously, and the formation of two septa results in a two-nucleus daughter cell, which is now at the tip as well as a single-core stem cell and the also single-core hook. The latter then unite, dissolving the hyphae walls between them. In the now apical cell, karyogamy takes place and then three nuclear divisions: an ordinary mitosis and the two meiotic divisions (meiosis I and II). This is how the eponymous tube or ascus is created , in which 8 haploid nuclei lie in a row. Subsequently, thick-walled ascospores are formed and released in the Ascus 8 (or - after further divisions - a multiple).

The yoke fungi do not develop any fruiting bodies, but only exist as multinucleated mycelia. With them, neighboring hyphae send out processes known as gametangia, which connect to form the eponymous “yoke”. The contact point then swells, the dividing cell walls dissolve, and the multinucleated amalgamation product is encapsulated from the two gametangia by dividing walls. The diploid phase is reached by fusing the cell nuclei in pairs, and the resulting coenozygote (multinucleated zygote ) becomes a so-called zygospore through the formation of a thick wall, which can last for a long time under adverse conditions. When the zygospore germinates under favorable conditions, the nuclei go through meiosis and a haploid multinucleated mycelium develops again.

The formation of fruit bodies is associated with a considerable increase in metabolic activity, because significantly more proteins and nucleic acids are formed in the fruit bodies than in the mycelium and this requires increased energy expenditure, which is also reflected in a corresponding increase in oxygen consumption. Therefore, fruiting bodies can only be formed with a good supply of oxygen, while mycelia can grow purely vegetatively even in very oxygen-poor environments, such as in rotting wood.


Fungi act as decomposers of dead organic material ( destructors ), feed as parasites on other living beings, or they live in a mutual ( mutualistic ) symbiosis with plants ( mycorrhiza ) or with cyanobacteria ( lichens ). Due to the very effective distribution of their spores, they are practically everywhere where a suitable substrate becomes available, and overall they can use a very wide range of food sources.

Mushrooms as destructors

Mushrooms decompose a tree trunk.
The tinder fungus , one of the most common white rot pathogens

The fungi form the most important group of the living beings ( destructors ) involved in the breakdown of organic matter (dead organisms, excrement , detritus ). It is almost exclusively fungi that break down and utilize lignin (complex compounds in the woody cell walls of plants). They are also the most important recyclers in the breakdown of cellulose , hemicellulose and keratin . Together with bacteria and microorganisms, they form the humus from organic waste .

The importance of fungi in breaking down lignin and especially the very lignin-rich trunks of dead trees stands out in several ways. Only mushrooms, specifically certain mushrooms, which are grouped together as white rot mushrooms, are able to effectively decompose larger pieces of wood. In contrast to bacteria, some of which can utilize readily available late products of lignin degradation to a limited extent, fungi actively penetrate the wood with their hyphae. And only mushrooms that specialize in this have the necessary enzymes for the complicated and energy-intensive breakdown of lignin. This is particularly difficult, among other things, because lignin is very hydrophobic (water-repellent) and therefore inaccessible for the usual hydrolytic degradation processes, and because it is basically only possible aerobically, i.e. it requires a good supply of oxygen. Where this is not the case, the wood is preserved for a long time (e.g. in bogs ) and is finally converted into coal over very long geological periods ( coalification ). We speak of white rot when wood is decomposed by fungi, if these mainly decompose the brown lignin and the colorless cellulose remains, while brown rot fungi only break down the lignin to the extent that it is necessary for access to the cellulose and the hemicelluloses.

Fungi as parasites

Parasitic fungi are mostly specialized in certain host organisms . In order to find suitable hosts, they have developed different methods. Rust fungi produce large amounts of spores and thereby increase the chance that some of them will end up on compatible host plants. On the other hand, spreading by insects visiting the host plants is more effective. In this way, yeasts that live in the nectar are transported from flower to flower. The spores of Monilinia fructigena , the causative agent of fruit rot in fruit trees, are spread by wasps, which at the same time create access for the fungus by eating the fruit.

Smut fungi can live saprophytically in the soil for years without host plants. For example, in a field infected by Ustilago maydis , the maize blight , infectious mycelia are still present for up to 12 years later, which immediately parasitize the re-sown maize plants. Animals and humans also mostly contract fungal infections by coming into contact with spores ( e.g. athlete's foot ) or with other hosts.

When a fungus parasitizes a plant, it uses specialized hyphae, the haustoria, to invade its cells. The haustoria penetrate the cell wall, but leave the cell membrane intact (otherwise the cytoplasm would escape and the host cell would die) and only invade them so that they are now surrounded by a double membrane. Through this, the haustorium can then take nutrients from the plasma of the host cell without excreting enzymes as in dead substrates and having to constantly develop new sources of food through continuous growth, because the host plant supplies the required substances as long as the infected cell remains alive.

Birkenporling ( Piptoporus betulinus ): a wood destroyer

On the other hand, fungi can significantly influence the physiology of their host plants. The cypress milkweed shows a very different habit when it is attacked by the rust fungus Uromyces fabae . And many grasses are poisonous to grazing animals if they harbor certain mushrooms. Since they show no signs of damage themselves, one can speak of a mutualistic symbiosis.

Economically important fungal diseases in plants are maize blight , wheat stone brandy , ergot in rye, Verticillium wilt in many cultivated plants, apple scab ( Venturia ), pear grate ( Gymnosporangium sabinae ), fruit tree canker ( Nectria galligena ) and powdery mildew (Erysiphaceae). There are also around 10,000 other fungal plant diseases.



The fly agaric forms a mycorrhiza with birch trees

About 90 percent of all land plants can form a mycorrhiza with certain fungi. The fungi involved include the vast majority of the class of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi , which, with its hyphae in the root cells invade ( Endomycorrhiza from gr. Endo = inside) and there by rich branching the eponymous arbuscules (from the Latin. Arbusculum form = tree). Ectomycorrhiza (from Greek ekto = outside), in which the fungal mycelium wraps around the roots of the trees in the form of a mycelial coat and penetrates the bark, but not the cells, is rarer , but typical for Central European forests . Here, the mushrooms involved are mostly mushrooms. As with any symbiosis, both partners benefit: the plant receives more mineral nutrients from the fungus, as its fine mycelium penetrates the soil more closely than its own suction roots could. This better supply is particularly noticeable in very nutrient-poor soils. Conversely, the fungus receives sugar, which the plant produces through photosynthesis, as an energy source and for the formation of other organic substances. In addition, mycorrhizal fungi are also often able to saprophytically extract organic nutrients from the soil.

The chlorophyll- free spruce asparagus gets its nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi

An extreme case, set the orchid is, many of them already in the germination of their seeds under natural conditions obligate rely on their fungal symbiosis partner. Some orchids, e.g. B. the bird's nest root do not contain any chlorophyll and therefore cannot photosynthesize, but rather draw all nutrients from the fungus on which they parasitize. The same conditions can also be found in some heather plants such as spruce asparagus . In both cases, the fungi involved simultaneously form a mycorrhiza with trees and obtain sugar from them, some of which they pass on to the nest root or the spruce asparagus ( epiparasitism ). In this way, these plants can thrive in the form of pale inflorescences even in shady places in the forest.


Lichen are fungi that harbor unicellular green algae or cyanobacteria as symbionts and are therefore photoautotrophic , i.e. H. are not dependent on external food sources thanks to the photosynthesis of their symbionts. Unlike either of the partners alone, they can colonize extreme habitats. The fungi in question are hardly viable without their respective symbionts, while the latter also thrive in isolation. For them, the advantage of symbiosis is that it opens up a much wider range of habitats.

Marine and xerophilic mushrooms

Fungi, in particular cucumber, are also widespread in marine habitats, i.e. in a highly salty environment. They counter the high osmotic pressure by accumulating polyols (higher-quality alcohols ), mainly glycerine , but also mannitol and arabitol, in the hyphae. The situation is similar with xerophilic molds and yeasts, which can grow on salted herrings or jam , for example.

Anaerobia: life without oxygen

Most mushrooms need oxygen; they are obligatory aerobic . However, some can temporarily manage without oxygen (facultative anaerobia ) or have even lost the ability to use it at all (obligatory anaerobia). The latter applies to the Neocallimastigaceae , which live in the rumen of ruminants and specialize in the utilization of cellulose. Facultative anaerobes, on the other hand, are the yeasts which undergo fermentation under anaerobic conditions , with which they - much less effectively than with aerobic respiration - z. B. can live on sugar. Some molds are also able to do so, e.g. In some cases, they then also go morphologically into a yeast-like stage.

Reaction to light

Mycelia mostly grow in the dark. When hyphae tips reach the surface of the substrate exposed to light, the light (more precisely: its blue components) stimulates the formation of spores, and the development of the fruiting bodies can also be light-dependent. However, this effect is locally limited and does not affect the rest of the mycelium. In many fungi, the spore-forming hyphae (conidiophores or sporangiophores) grow in the direction of the incident light. In the case of the genus Pilobolus ( Mucorales ), the entire sporangium that contains the mature spores is thrown off exactly in the direction of the light source.


Mushrooms are very common. The vast majority live in the country. Aquatic fungi that live in water can be found , for example, among the Chytridiomycetes . Freshwater mushrooms are more common than saltwater mushrooms .

Importance to humans

Around 180 types of fungus can cause various fungal diseases in humans . However, the benefits of many mushrooms for humans are far greater, for example as edible mushrooms or in the production of yeast dough and alcoholic beverages.

Edible and poison mushrooms

The fruiting bodies of the table morel ( Morchella esculenta ) can be found in deciduous forests from April to May.

Many types of mushrooms are well-known and popular foods. This includes not cultivable species such as porcini and chanterelle , but also crop species and varieties of mushrooms , shiitake and oyster mushroom . When collecting wild mushrooms utmost care is taken not by accidentally harvested toadstools a mushroom poisoning to risk. Anyone who collects mushrooms for consumption must be very familiar with the edible and poisonous mushrooms and may only use edible mushrooms that are unequivocally recognized. Many types of mushrooms contain hemolysins or other heat-labile poisons that are only destroyed by heating. Most edible mushrooms therefore require heating by boiling or frying before consumption in order to avoid indigestion or poisoning.

It should also be noted that fungi absorb and accumulate heavy metals and radionuclides . This can lead to harmful concentrations of heavy metals or radionuclides in the fruiting bodies of wild mushrooms.

Most edible mushrooms belong to the mushroom type. Relatively few edible mushrooms, including morels and truffles , come from the sac mushroom division.

For some mushrooms, the food value differs in different regions. Some species, such as the Wollige Milchling , which are generally considered inedible, are used for food purposes in Eastern Europe . Even poisonous species such as the spring lobster are consumed in Scandinavia . Even in the same region, the edibility rating can change within several decades. For example, the Kahle Krempling , which is now considered poisonous, was previously considered edible.

See also: List of poison mushrooms , mushroom advice center
See also the categories edible mushroom and poison mushroom

Alcoholic beverages, yeast dough and dairy products

Of the unicellular fungi, the sugar yeasts of the Saccharomyces genus , especially baker's yeast ( S. cerevisiae ), are the best-known useful mushrooms. They produce alcohol and carbon dioxide through alcoholic fermentation from sugar and are used in beer brewing , in the production of wine , other alcoholic beverages and certain (also alcoholic) sour milk products, as well as for baking . As a rule, cultured yeasts are used today , but the yeasts that naturally live on the surface of the grapes are still used , especially in winemaking . The sourdough used in bread baking contains lactic acid bacteria as well as yeast.

The mycelial fungus Botrytis cinerea also plays a role in winemaking . In cool, damp autumn weather, it creates noble rot in the berries, which causes the berry skin to be perforated. The resulting loss of water increases the sugar concentration.

Many species also play an important role in the ripening process of dairy products , especially sour milk products and cheese .

Medicinal mushrooms

Mushrooms have also been used for medicinal purposes since the beginning of the 20th century. Medicines like the antibiotic penicillin are made from mushrooms. Other metabolic products of mushrooms have a cholesterol-lowering effect or help against malaria .

On the other hand, fungi cause illness in humans. The most commonly affected areas of the body are the skin (especially on the head, feet and hands), hair, nails and mucous membranes. The most well-known fungal diseases in humans are skin and nail fungus diseases .

A large number of bacteria and fungi live on human skin, but they usually do not harm it. They settle in the upper layers of the skin and feed on dead skin cells and sweat. Factors such as stress, a weakened immune system, hormonal changes or the like. can cause otherwise harmless fungi to cause diseases that affect the scalp, vagina (in the case of an early pregnancy) or other internal organs. Examples of an infestation of internal organs are yeasts such as Candida and the mold Aspergillus fumigatus , which occasionally leads to diseases of the lungs, especially after chemotherapy .

Athlete's foot is common because it is very easily transmitted. Some of their spores survive for years and are insensitive to normal hygiene measures. Furthermore, they are very easily transferred from the feet to other parts of the body such as the genital organs, mouth and mucous membranes. Swimming pools are among the main sources of athlete's foot.

Further examples are:

Medicines used to treat fungal diseases are called antifungal drugs . They are used for local fungal attack on the skin or mucous membranes and also for systemic fungal infections .

In China , numerous large mushrooms have been part of traditional Chinese medicine for centuries . The Shiitake ( Lentinula edodes ) was already considered the elixir of life in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), which was supposed to cure colds, stimulate blood circulation and promote stamina. The Shiny Lackporling ( Ganoderma lucidum ), known as Ling-Zhi or Reishi, is said to be a particularly effective tonic . The pom-pom mushroom or hedgehog goatee / monkey head mushroom ( Hericium erinaceus ) is recommended for diseases of the stomach . The European apothecary sponge or larch tree sponge ( Laricifomes officinalis ) is highly valued as a medicinal product. Its active ingredient is agaricic acid, which has a strong laxative effect and is responsible for the extraordinarily bitter taste.

Psychoactive mushrooms

As psychoactive mushrooms or noise mushrooms mushrooms are called, which psychotropic substances such as psilocybin , psilocin , baeocystin , muscimol or Ergin included. The best known are mushrooms containing psilocybin , which are often referred to as magic mushrooms . Their effects are sometimes compared to the intoxicating effects of LSD . They include exotic species such as the Cuban ( Psilocybe cubensis ) or the Mexican bald head ( Psilocybe mexicana ), but also native species such as the conical bald head ( Psilocybe semilanceata ). Inexperienced mushroom pickers risk their health by collecting psilocybin-containing mushrooms because they can be confused with other poisonous mushroom species. The fly agaric contains the poisonous and psychotropic ibotenic acid , which is converted into the much more effective alkaloid muscimol when it dries. both substances are assigned to the delirium . In addition to other (toxic) substances, ergot also contains the psychoactive ergine. Psychoactive mushrooms had and still have a spiritual meaning as entheogenic substances in various peoples .

Tinder sponge

Cap made from the trama of Fomes fomentarius

Growing a tree pest, especially in beech and birch tinder fungus , Fomes fomentarius , a white rot fungus, formerly used for lighting fires: The interior of the konsolartig growing out of the tree trunks fruiting body was cooked, dried, soft knock, with saltpetre soaked and dried again. The scale obtained in this way can be ignited by sparks.

A material similar to felt can be obtained from the interior of the fruit body simply by boiling, drying and pounding it soft, which can be used for the production of various utensils (hats, bags and the like, see picture).

Mushroom dyes

The chemistry of mushroom dyes is very complex because of the large number of compounds. Some dyes are in a reduced form as a leuco compound . The dye atromentine, a terphenylquinone , of the velvet foot kremplings is oxidized to a blue form when the fungus is injured with atmospheric oxygen and oxidases present in the fungus . Something similar can be seen when cutting many mushrooms. Dyes of the pulvic acid type occur in thick boletus relatives , especially of the genera Boletus and Xerocomus . The red dye of witch tubers is variegatorubin, the yellow dye of gold tubers is a mixture of Grevillin B and C. Grevillins are important as pigments in the butterflies . The cap skin of the toadstool contains numerous yellow, orange and red components that belong to the betalaine group , as well as muscaflavin, which is also responsible for the orange and red colors of saplings . In Strubbelkopfröhrling could levodopa demonstrate that under in violation of the fruiting body formation of melanin leads to blackening. In certain mushrooms, the biosynthesis of betalamic acid, which forms betalaine with amino acids, from L-dopa is considered to be certain. In addition, carotenoids , azulene derivatives , anthraquinones , phenoxazines and riboflavin are often found in mushrooms .


External system




 Multicellular animals (Metazoa)


 Collared flagellates (Choanoflagellata)







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 Mushrooms (fungi)

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External classification of mushrooms

The closest relatives of the mushrooms are, besides the Holozoa (which also includes the multicellular animals (Metazoa) and their sister group, the flagellated flagellates (Choanomonada)), the parasitic genus Rozella . It is currently unclear whether the unicellular microsporidia (Microsporidia, also called Microspora) are also to be counted among the fungi. The smallest common clade of fungi and animals is called Opisthokonta and according to Adl et al. 2012 set up as follows:

  • Opisthokonta
    • Holozoa (including multicellular animals and flagellates)
    • Nucletmycea (including mushrooms and Rozella)

The common ancestor of animals and fungi can be assumed to be a single-celled unicellular organism (flagellate), which biologically resembles both today's potty mushrooms and the frilled flagellates (Choanoflagellata).

Due to the increased knowledge of the systematics over time, some taxa that were previously called lower fungi are no longer counted among the fungi. This applies to the slime mold and other fungus-like protists as the oomycete (Oomycetes), the labyrinthulomycetes (Labyrinthulomycetes) Hyphochytriales (only order the Hyphochytriomycota ), formerly Plasmodiophoromycetes mentioned phytomyxea and the sooner the Phycomycetes (however, today the mesomycetozoea ) attributed taxa Ichthyophonae ( also called Amoebidiidae ) and Eccrinales .

Internal system

  Mushrooms    (fungi)   

 Microsporidia inc. sed.


 Potty mushrooms (Chytridiomycota)










 Entomophthoromycotina (including fly-killer mushrooms)




 Glomeromycota (including arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi)


 Ascomycota mushrooms


 Stand mushrooms (Basidiomycota)

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Internal systematics of mushrooms

Around 100,000 species of mushrooms are known today. According to current estimates, there are between 2.2 and 5.1 million species. The life forms, formerly also called real mushrooms or higher mushrooms (Eumycota), are divided into the following five divisions:

  • Potty mushrooms (Chytridiomycota) are mostly unicellular fungi. Because flagellated stages are present, the potty mushrooms are considered to be a very original form of the mushrooms.
  • Yoke mushrooms (Zygomycota) differ from the other mushrooms in the formation of the eponymous yoke-like bridges between compatible hyphae during sexual reproduction. The mycelium is mostly polynuclear (coenocytic) without septa. The yoke mushrooms probably do not form a natural family group.
  • The arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (Glomeromycota) are also coenocytic and form a typical endomycorrhiza , in which tree-like membrane protuberances, the arbuscules , grow into the interior of plant root cells and in this way establish a symbiotic relationship.
  • The cells of the Ascomycetes (Ascomycota) separated by septa and usually contain only one nucleus. The sexual spores are formed in characteristic tubes, the asci . There are a number of species in which large fruiting bodies occur and which are therefore classified as large mushrooms .
  • The cells of the mushroom (Basidiomycota) are also separated from one another by septa, but contain two different cell nuclei during an often extended phase of their development (dikaryophase). The sexual spores are formed on basidia . Most of the large mushroom species come from this group. The mycelium can, in extreme cases, such as honey fungus grow old several thousand years.
Family tree of mushrooms

Technical advances in molecular genetics and the application of computer-aided analysis methods have enabled detailed and reliable statements to be made about the systematic relationships between the above-mentioned fungal taxa. For example, some relationships were confirmed that could previously only be assumed due to morphological , anatomical and physiological differences or similarities.

The potty mushrooms split off from the other mushrooms very early and retained many original features, such as flagellated spores . The yoke fungi, on the other hand, very probably do not represent a uniform (monophyletic) family group, but a polyphyletic group of different lineages. The genus Amoebidium , which was previously counted among the yoke fungi, therefore does not even belong to the mushroom kingdom. The arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, which were originally also assigned to the yoke fungi, are now regarded as an independent family group, which is usually raised to the rank of a separate department. It is then seen as an evolutionary sister group of a taxon made from tube and mushroom mushrooms known as the Dikaryomycota.

Those species which for the time being cannot be clearly assigned to one of the above-mentioned groups were provisionally assigned to the Fungi imperfecti (Deuteromycota); However, this was only a provisional and artificial form taxon.

Nectarines infested with mold

In spring 2007, 67 scientists from 13 countries published the final result of a concerted and comprehensive research effort as part of the Assembling the Fungal Tree of Life project with the aim of cleaning up the previously inconsistent and unclear taxonomy of fungi. In doing so, they not only took into account the latest molecular and genetic data from various fungal species, but also the history of the development of the respective nomenclature . As a result, the researchers propose a new classification in which the mushroom kingdom is subdivided into 195 taxa . In this way, the taxonomists hope to end the existing confusion of terms in the scientific literature and to achieve a consistent consistency of the various (online) databases .

An example of the changes in the current systematics of fungi that result from this is the dissolution of the phylum of yoke fungi ( Zygomycota ), which also includes certain molds that live on fruits . The affected taxa would be divided among other groups.


The common ancestor of the mushrooms and animals was probably a flagellated unicellular organism that lived around a billion years ago. While the great majority of the mushrooms living today no longer develop flagella , flagellated spores or gametes still appear when flagellate mushrooms reproduce . The mushrooms probably left the water before the plants and colonized the land. Since the earliest known land plants had no real roots, but apparently lived in symbiosis with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, it is assumed that these fungi made it possible for the plants to go ashore.


Gondwanagaricites magnificus is the oldest described mushroom.

The earliest fossils with characteristics typical of fungi date from the Paleoproterozoic Era about 2.4 billion years ago. These multicellular benthic organisms had filamentous structures that were capable of anastomosis .

The first largely undisputed mushroom finds come from the geological epoch of the Ordovician and can perhaps be assigned to the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi . The successful shore leave of the plants would probably not have been possible without fungal symbioses.

The oldest described mushroom is Gondwanagaricites magnificus . It is a fossil lamellar fungus from Brazil that is unusually well preserved and about 5 cm in diameter. The find comes from the Lower Cretaceous and is 115 million years old.

Fossil mushrooms are also found from amber u. a. known from carbonic deposits in Scotland and England (so-called middletonite ), from the Carnian ( Upper Triassic ) in Germany and in a remarkable biodiversity from Cretaceous Canadian amber as well as Mexican , Dominican and Baltic amber (all tertiary ). Some of these finds are fungi that attacked termites and nematodes and were trapped in the resin along with their hosts.

The oldest known fossils of carnivorous mushrooms are about 100 million years old (border between Upper and Lower Cretaceous ). They were found by researchers at the Humboldt University in Berlin around Alexander Schmidt in amber from south-west France . The species lived in the forest near the coast and formed a transition form between yeast-like aquatic mushrooms and modern carnivorous mushrooms.

Cultural history

Stinkhorn witch 's egg ( Phallus impudicus )

As early as the first century AD, the Greek doctor Pedanios Dioscurides wrote in his textbook that there are two types of sponges: one is comfortable for eating, the other is a deadly poison. Dioscurides suspected (wrongly) that the toxicity of a mushroom depends on its location: mushrooms that grow next to rusted iron, rotting cloth, snake holes or trees with poisonous fruits are all poisonous to one another. But even then he recognized the difficult digestibility of excessive mushroom food, which made people choke and suffocate. Also Adamus Lonicerus wrote in the 16th century in his herb book on the fungi that it is the nature of all sponges is to press; they are cold, phlegmatic , damp and raw in nature.

Even later, and in some cases up to the present day, some assumptions about clues that should serve to distinguish edible and poisonous mushrooms have remained. One of the most famous is the fallacy that fruit bodies that have been eaten by animals are not poisonous. This assumption corresponds to the idea that fungi, which are harmless to animals, are also non-toxic to humans. Other supposed indicators are that mushrooms that grow near snake nests, mold spots or poisonous trees are poisonous or that when they come into contact with poison, spoons made of pewter or silver turn brown, onions turn black, proteins turn lead gray or salt yellow. However, it has been known since the middle of the 19th century at the latest that none of these phenomena provide any clues for differentiating between edible and poisonous mushrooms.

Until modern times, the appearance of mushrooms was explained by miasms : mushrooms arise from bad evaporation from the earth or from rotting subsoil . The belief in spontaneous generation ( generatio spontanea ) was also nourished by fungi, because their spores could not be seen before the invention of the microscope. Adamus Lonicerus wrote that certain mushrooms are sponges of the children of the gods because they grow without a seed, hence they are also called Gygenais , terra nati (children of the earth) by the poets .

In the past, inexplicable phenomena such as the witch's ring and the nocturnal green glow of the Hallimasch mycelium contributed to the rather sinister public image of mushrooms .


Dark honey mushroom

The largest known mushroom in the world is a dark honey mushroom . Located in a wildlife sanctuary in Oregon , it is considered the largest known creature with the mycelium stretching over nearly 1,000 acres . Its weight is estimated at 600 tons and its age at almost 2000 years.

The mushroom with the largest known fruiting body is a fire sponge of the species Phellinus ellipsoideus , which was found in 2010 in the Chinese province of Hainan . The fruiting body was 10.85 meters long, 82 to 88 inches wide and 4.6 to 5.5 inches thick. Investigations into the density of the mushroom showed that the entire fruiting body weighed 400 to 500 kilograms. Its age was estimated to be around 20 years.



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  • John Webster, Roland Weber: Introduction to Fungi . 3rd ed., Cambridge University Press 2007. ISBN 978-0-521-01483-0 .



  • H. Dörfelt, H. Heklau: The history of mycology . Einhorn-Verlag, Schwäbisch Gmünd 1998, ISBN 3-927654-44-2 .

Web links

Commons : Mushrooms  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Mushroom  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikibooks: Mushroom Cultivation  - Learning and Teaching Materials

German speaking

English speaking

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