Adapted from the Craigellachie National Nature Reserve, Education Pack (SNH)
- To learn about the importance of fungi as decomposers - Nature's way of recycling
- To learn the difference between mosses, ferns, lichens and fungi
10 - 20 minutes.
You will need
- note books & pencils
- information sheets (see downloads)
Did you know?
Oak woods, pine woods and unimproved grasslands are great places to see fungi. Visit Glen Affric National Nature Reserve or Glenmore Forest Park in autumn and you would be sure to find some interesting fungi.
Before the activity
Spend some time looking at photos and drawings of fungi with the class. See the Downloads and additional information section. Fungi come in all sorts of fantastic shapes and colours. Many fungi have names associated with their shape or their properties - bracket fungi, elf cups, pink ballerina, wax caps, earth tongue and tooth fungi - to name a few. Use the diagram of a fungus in the All About ...Fungi factsheet and poster (available free from SNH) to explain to the class that the fruiting body of a fungus (the bit we see above ground and commonly call the fungus) is really only just a small part of the whole fungus and that fungal hyphae (tube like roots) are the main part, which run through the soil or rotting wood unseen.
Tell them about the giant Honey Fungus in Oregon, USA, which is probably the oldest, largest and heaviest living thing on Earth. The soil in the Oregon forest is full of the tiny connected tubes of a single Honey Fungus, spread out for over 5 km! Honey Fungus gradually kills a tree’s roots and the foresters in the Oregon forest were starting to wonder why so many trees all in one place were dying. On investigation they discovered the giant Honey Fungus. This particular fungus is estimated to be at least 2,400 years old! The same species is also found in Scotland.
Explain that over 80% of our trees, shrubs and wildflowers use fungi. The fungi live within or upon the root tips of the plant and the fungal hyphae scavenge nutrients from the surrounding soil. In return the fungus receives organic nutrients (like sugar) made by the plant and some vitamins. These fungi are called mycorrhizas, many are very specific and only found with particular host plants so therefore a hazel wood, oak wood or pine wood will have some very different fungi. Lichens are another fungus/plant team. In a lichen the alga (simple plant) is sandwiched inside the fungus. The alga makes nutrients for the fungus by photosynthesis and the fungus provides a home for the alga and prevents it from drying out.
Explain that before flowering plants evolved, the world was full of ferns and mosses. These are much simpler plants - they reproduce using spores not seeds and have simpler leaves and roots. Bring a few samples of ferns and mosses into the classroom and use a magnifying glass to look at the mosses close up and the spore holders on the under-side of the ferns.
Go for a walk with the class in Autumn. You will be amazed at the number of fungi you will find, as soon as you start to look. Look in the leaf litter, on pine cones, on the trunks of old trees and look on tree stumps, in grassy glades and along old, fallen, dead trees. Explain that some fungi are very poisonous - they can make you very sick or even kill you, and it is very difficult to tell the poisonous ones from the others. Make sure that the children only LOOK at the fungi and do NOT TOUCH the fungi. 'Collect' your fungi by taking a photograph of the larger specimens (where they are growing) or asking a pupil or groups of pupils to be the 'recorder' for that particular specimen. Ask them to make a sketch of the fungus and what it is growing on, and add in labels for colour and give a scale.
The children may also spot mosses and lichens which interest them. Record these too.
Back in the classroom, make a wall display of all the fungi you found. Undertake research to find out the real names of the fungi and/or make up your own names to label your display.
Suggested Follow up
The activity Recycling wood in the Woodland Ways section
Set up an experiment with small round birch logs in the school grounds in a damp corner. Arrange some on their sides and some on their ends. Take photographs every season from the same fixed point, to show how the logs gradually decompose and become soil, aided by an ever changing series of fungi and mosses.
Use the colours, shapes and textures of the fungi as the basis for art work.
You might find a good example of a fast-growing fungus in the school grounds, or near to the school - a shaggy ink cap, for example. Take the class to see it on a regular basis, and take photographs. Watch how quickly it grows, opens its cap and disappears into a sticky splodge!
All About....Fungi Factsheet and Poster search the series 'Education and Teacher's resources' see SNH publications, also available free from SNH (publication due in 2008)
Information and photographs of native pine wood tooth fungi
General information about fungi
Looking at Fungi - worksheet
Plant groups - information sheet
Naturally Scottish - Fungi . Comprehensive booklet on fungi with excellent photographs - in the Naturally Scottish series - available from SNH publications
Science – main
Expressive arts - linked
2, 3, 4