Fungi and Lichens

Fungi and Lichens - UK and Ireland : Fungi used to be thought of as 'lower plants', but they are a unique grouping of their own, forming one of the major Kingdoms of life. People who study fungi are mycologists.

Fungi used to be thought of as 'lower plants', but they are a unique grouping of their own, forming one of the major "Kingdoms" of life. People who study fungi are "mycologists".

We're surrounded by fungi: in the soil, playing a vital role in the decay process, helping plants find the nutrients they need, even attacking animals. The most obvious signs of fungi are the 'fruiting bodies' (including mushrooms and toadstools) that they produce to spread their spores, but this is usually a small part of their life-cycle, much of which is spent in the form of tiny filaments (hyphae) that grow through the soil and other substrates.

Fungi are an enormously diverse group, and in the British Isles something like 12,000 species are known. Not surpisingly, this means that identifying fungi can be a challenge, but among all these species are some striking and immediately recognisable ones, such as the Fly Agaric.

Please note that iSpot is not intended as a guide to edible fungi, and we accept no liability for any injury or death occurring as a result of ingesting or exposure to any mushroom or fungus included on this website. A few fungi are deadly poisonous, many are inedible and some people are allergic to certain species. You should never eat any wild fungi unless you are absolutely certain of its identity. Identification from photos cannot always be reliably achieved even by experts, fungi can also become toxic irrespective of their identity by being infected with other microbes or if they are growing on contaminated soil. In addition to this, some fungi may be vulnerable to over-collecting, and they also support many other types of wildlife, so you may decide it is best to leave wild fungi in their natural habitat.

Lichens are a partnership ("symbiosis") between a fungus and an alga, the two organisms combining to produce a new 'species' of lichen. Lichens typically grow slowly on substrates such as rocks, walls and wood (both living trees and dead wood).


The features used to identify fungi include size, texture (e.g. shiny, rough, slimy etc.), colour and shape; for mushroom-type fungi, it can be especially important to note down details of the shape of the cap and the stem, including how they join, and whether there are any rings or skirts on the stem.

The pores or gills on the underside of the cap can be important (to see these try using a small mirror, avoiding the need to pick too many specimens).

Additional clues can be gained by noting what the fungus is growing in or on, e.g. is it on soil, in leaf-litter or on wood, what tree and other plant species are nearby, what type of soil? Is the fruiting body growing alone, or as part of a group?

Not all species can be identified from their appearance alone, and to record the full range of fungi you will need to learn how to take spore prints, and will need access to a microscope. More information is available from the societies listed below.

Photography for identification

Try to take several photos, showing a mix of close-ups from various angles (including underneath the cap if you can), and wider shots of the fungi growing in its habitat. Use a coin or other object to give a scale, or record the size of the fungi separately.

Useful links - fungi

There are local fungus groups in many counties, to find out about yours try contacting your local Environmental Records Centre or Wildlife Trust. See also Nature Groups Near You from the Natural History Museum.

Plantlife International actively promotes the conservation of fungi (as well as plants!).

Useful links - lichens

26 Sep 2008