|The fungi kingdom is incredibly diverse, ranging from the smallest microscopic specimens to the largest known organism in the world. When we think of fungi, the first thing that comes to mind is mushrooms, but in reality, most species in the fungi kingdom don’t produce mushrooms. Even when they do grow mushrooms, this still only makes up a tiny part of the organism. Mushrooms are the fruiting body of a fungus, which sprouts up from the soil or from decaying wood to spread spores, just like a fruit spreads the seeds of a tree. The rest of the body of the fungus is generally underground or inside dying wood, consisting of microscopic root-like branches called mycelium. Many types of fungi grow and produce mushrooms in the cool, wet conditions in the understory of the rainforest here in British Columbia, each with its own properties. Some contain toxic compounds, and others make a delicious stir fry, but they all stimulate a lot of intrigue.
Ecological RoleFungi occupy several very important ecological niches. The first is their ability to decompose organic matter and cycle important nutrients. Fungi have a remarkable ability to break down tough organic materials like cellulose and lignin in wood, which many other decomposers cannot digest. Once these fibrous materials are broken down into simple sugars, the fungi ingest them to be used as energy. Other organisms in the soil can also benefit from this decomposition and external digestion, like invertebrates that depend on fungi to break down the tough materials before digesting them. Even if these nutrients aren’t absorbed, they return to the soil to be taken up by plants and used as energy for growth. Of course, as we know, plants are able to photosynthesize, which means turning light energy from the sun into chemical energy like sugar. These plants are then eaten by consumers higher up the food chain, allowing for the cycling of nutrients to all organisms in an ecosystem. When those organisms eventually die, the ecosystem looks to the decomposers, like fungi, to make those nutrients usable again. Essentially, fungi are the avid recyclers of the forest. Fungi really took it to heart when they heard “reduce, reuse, and, of course, recycle!”
In some contexts, fungi can be separated into two categories; the good guys and the bad guys. However, this personification only works if you compare fungi that decompose wood with fungi that work in harmony with trees as a symbiosis. The latter are called mycorrhizal fungi, and they help trees with various tasks such as communication and nutrient absorption. Through their mycelia in the soil, they wrap around tree roots and connect to their tissues via grafts. The mycelium transport communicative chemicals from tree to tree, enabling trees to warn their neighbours of a pathogen or share nutrients which allows young trees in the canopy to thrive. For improved nutrient absorption, the mycelia will bring nutrients directly from the soil to the tree root graft, allowing faster and more efficient absorption. Fungi provide these services in exchange for the simple sugars that the tree produces by photosynthesis which are easy for fungi to use as energy.
Lichen is another interesting form of symbiosis in fungi. Species of lichen are composed of two different organisms working together in a permanent symbiosis. One organism in the partnership is a fungus. This individual makes up the body of the species, the shape, texture and size. The second individual in the partnership is algae, a photosynthesizing bacteria. The algae are generally found on the surface of the fungus structure and sometimes determine the species' colour. This symbiosis functions well because the algae need the fungus to provide safety and water storage to allow the algae to survive in environments it wouldn’t be able to on its own. Meanwhile, the fungus gets sugars produced by the algae during photosynthesis. This harmonic partnership has stood the test of time, as lichens are considered some of the oldest living things.
Gills - When you think of a mushroom, you typically think of a stalk and a big round cap like gilled mushrooms. True to their name, the flat surface underneath their round cap contains gills, sometimes hundreds of them. These radial plates of delicate tissue are for reproduction. Spores are produced and released from under the gills and carried by wind or rain drops to spread the fungi’s seeds. Not all mushrooms have gills; some have pores instead. This significant feature can help identify the fungus.
Stipe - The mushroom stipe is another feature that can help identify a fungus. The stipe is the stem or stalk that holds up the mushroom cap. Some mushrooms have a stipe, and others don’t, helping to identify the species. Mushrooms with a stipe can have features like a ring or skirt. The shape and height of the stipe can also help you identify the fungi.
Cap - The cap of a mushroom may be it's most noticeable feature. The cap's colour, shape and texture all give clues as to which fungus produced the mushroom.
-- By Sylvie Stewart Grantham
Past Blog Posts
Jun 13, 2022
Forest FungiForest Fungi are an important part in any forest ecosystem. Read more about how they reproduce, recycle nutrients, and work in symbiosis with others!
Apr 23, 2022
Staff Highlight: Daryl DancerFind out more about one of our most experienced guides, Daryl Dancer, from her love of sailing to her passion for Grizzly bears, she's got it all.
Mar 25, 2022
Sea Otter Success StoryDiscover more about the turbulent history of sea otters in British Columbian waters.
Mar 10, 2022
Wild Pacific Salmon EcologyFind out more about Pacific wild salmon. This post covers their diverse, intriguing ecology and why they're so important for our ecosystem!
Feb 20, 2022
How Hammerhead Got a NameFind out how the humpback whale, Hammerhead, got named! This is one of our favourite stories to tell at Farewell Harbour Lodge.
Feb 1, 2022
Tomato Basil SoupCheck out Chef Dylan's recipe for his delicious homemade tomato basil soup!
Jan 14, 2022
Rainforest EcologyJoin us on an imaginary journey into the Great Bear Rainforest, and maybe along the way you'll learn some ecology!
Jan 3, 2022
Reflecting on 2021Winter is the time of year when we reflect on the past before looking ahead.
Dec 13, 2021
Winter at Farewell Harbour LodgeMeet Cecil and Marisa, our winter caretakers, and get a glimpse into their winter life at Farewell Harbour Lodge.
May 1, 2021
Wildlife Guide - BearsWe put together a quick, easy guide to help you better understand what to expect when you go bear viewing with Farewell Harbour Lodge!
Apr 24, 2021
Farewell Kitchen - Paul's CioppinoWe uncovered a recipe from the past and had to share it with you! Enjoy with a crisp white wine in the sunshine!
Apr 19, 2021
Top Tips for Photography at Farewell HarbourWe are lucky to have some very talented friends, who also happen to be professional photographers! We asked them for some of their top tips!
Apr 10, 2021
Wildlife Guide - WhalesFind out more about whale watching in the Broughton Archipelago, from what you should bring with you to the best time of year to visit!
Mar 24, 2021
The Rest of the StoryThere are many stories that came together for Farewell Harbour Lodge to be where it is now. Ryne Brockway, co-owner and friend, tells us his.
Mar 11, 2021
Sweet Potato CookiesChef Robyn's easy and delicious sweet potato cookie recipe! Perfect for a boost of energy when out on the trails or just need a little pick me up.
Mar 2, 2021
Staying Jung on Berry IslandHave you ever taken a personality test? We talk about how MBTI is used to create better working relationships and strong connections.
Feb 25, 2021
Engage all your sensesThere are many ways in which we find escape. We look at how engaging all of your senses can help to switch off the outside pressures in a more mindful way.
Feb 11, 2021
A Love StoryTim tells us a Valentines Day story of how he and Kelli met and fell in love on this wild west coast.
Feb 2, 2021
The Forest Floor with MarlieOur rainforests are home to so much life! One of our guides, Marlie, helps us to notice the smaller things that are vital to its survival.
Jan 27, 2021
Going, going, SCONE!One of our guests' all time favourites! We get asked for this recipe more than any other, so here it is to enjoy from home.
Jan 17, 2021
A different perspectiveA wonderful way to see more of the vast landscape is by air! Read about one morning we took to the skies and experienced everything from mountain tops to sandy beaches.
Dec 21, 2020
Sea Kayaking with BeccaOne of our kayak guides, Becca, tells us why this is her favourite way to get even closer to nature and experience the Broughton Archipelago at its best.
Dec 18, 2020
Sointula - Place of Harmony on Malcolm IslandThings to do in Sointula! Full day excursions to Sointula and Malcolm Island. Pioneer history, whale rubbing beaches, historic lighthouse and more!
Nov 1, 2020
Differences between black bears and grizzliesA few things to look out for when bear viewing with our guides at Farewell Harbour. We look at some of the main differences between black bears and grizzlies.