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The ugly fungi

There are some fungi that look quite good, like the ordinary white button mushroom you eat for dinner, and some are so small that you can’t really see what they look like.  Quite a lot of fungi are quite unusual and some are very ugly! 

One of the most expensive types of fungi, the truffle is also one of the ugliest!  The truffle is a very close relative of the mushroom but much rarer.  It grows underground, close to trees, in woods and forests.  Truffles look like lumps of black or white clay – in fact, the word ‘truffle’ is thought to come from the Latin word for ‘tuber’ or ‘lump’!  Truffles were originally found by pigs that could smell the buried truffles as they snuffled around on the ground.  More recently though, specially trained dogs have been used to dig up truffles because dogs are less likely to eat the truffles they find!

Truffles are not available to everybody because they are such an expensive delicacy.  White truffles have a stronger smell and taste than black truffles, so much less of these are used.  Truffles are only eaten on special occasions and in small amounts, shaved over pasta or thinly sliced as part of a stuffing for meat.  It’s a good idea to eat truffles this way because it is really very ugly when it comes out of the ground!

Another type of ugly fungi that you can see growing over ground are the slime molds.  Slime molds are also called Physarum olycephalum.  They are a very bright yellow slimy blob that you can see growing among the flowers in your garden.  They don’t start off too bad (although some people think it looks a little like a dog has been very ill!), but they soon get hard, turn a grey-ish colour and then they dry into a brown powder which are the spores that the blob uses to spread.

There are lots of different types of slime molds, most of which can move.  They move very slowly, about 1millimetre each hour, so it won’t win any races!  Slime molds move to find food – they can eat things like bacteria and spores from other fungi.  When small slime molds move about, they leave an invisible chemical trail that attracts any other slime molds that cross the trail.  The slime molds come together and join forces to become a larger slime mold blob!

One of the most annoying fungi that makes everything it touches very ugly is mildew.  Mildew is a type of mold that grows on everything from clothes, paint, paper, leather, walls, any organic matter – anywhere that is damp.  Mildew has a strong musty smell and looks very ugly, little black or white spots that spread over everything.  You can also see a white powdery mildew or a downy mildew that grows on leaves.  This is a huge problem for framers and the agriculture industry as it destroys lots of different types of crops all over the world.

The ugliest fungi of all can often look the prettiest.  Lot of mushrooms that have bright colours like the red Amanita muscaria that has little white spots are great to look at but are poisonous!  The most dangerous mushroom, the Death Cap, mushroom is a plain white colour and beautiful to look at, but just a little can be lethal!  Lots of people are made very sick from eating mushrooms they pick in the wild, some have serious health problems for the rest of their lives and some don’t survive.  Remember, its not just the ugly mushrooms that are dangerous, the toxins from pretty-looking and tasty mushrooms can kill you, even after the mushrooms have been cooked!  The best thing to do is to get your mushrooms from your greengrocer or the supermarket!

Fungi are good for you and for the food you eat.  Remember to love the ugly ones, but only the ones that are safe!


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