Come monsoon, we find them suddenly making their appearance like artistes on a stage! There are small ones and big ones, soft ones and hard ones, thin ones and fat ones, ones that resemble sticks and those that resemble stars, ones that look like nests with eggs and ones that look like webs. There are ones that glow in the dark and many that stink. All these occur in a wide range of colours - red to rust, golden to grey and brown to black. These are the fascinating Fungi!
There is more to fungi than meets our eye. Fungi reproduce by the production of spores that are easily transported by air. These germinate when they land on a suitable surface with adequate moisture present. Most fungi thrive in a warm humid environment. The body of the fungus (which is usually a network of strands) mostly remains underground. However, what is mostly visible to us is only the reproductive part of the organism.
Some fungi live with algae forming lichens found commonly on trees and rocks while many live in close association with plant roots. Many termites actually cultivate a species of fungus for food.
Some fungi like Penicillium are used in preparation of medicines. Edible fungi are economically important and cultivated on a commercial scale. In fact, yeasts used in making beer and bread, are a kind of fungus. The beneficial effects of fungi far outweigh their negative aspects.
Fungi play a very important role in nature. They help clear up a lot of the organic debris on our planet. Being saprophytes, they feed on dead and decaying matter. Along with bacteria, they recycle important nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus into the ecosystem that can then be used by plants to grow. They are hence popularly referred to as decomposers.
In the form that we often see, they are ephemeral. So enjoy them while they last!