A large, beautiful and diverse group, microfungi remain a mystery to almost everyone except mycologists and plant pathologists.
In contrast to macrofungi, most of which are easily visible, microfungi can only be studied properly with the aid of a microscope, however, what they lack in size they make up for in more widespread distribution, primarily because it takes less moisture for them to produce their fruiting structures. Microfungi come in incredibly diverse, fascinating and complex shapes, and when examined microscopically are shaped very differently to the macrofungi. People who are knowledgeable about both of these groups are rare indeed.
Aspergillus species also produce chains of spores with milk bottle-shaped cells.
A species of Penicillium. Note the chains of spores formed by milk bottle-shaped cells.
Aurapex penicillata (about 2 to 3 mm high) occurs on the bark of Tibouchina species in Colombia.
A lengthwise section through a species of Pleospora showing the spores formed inside.
When you’re looking at mildew, bread mould, the little black dots in the dead spots on leaves, the little hairs or bumps on dead wood, the green, white or blue powdery fluff when you turn over moist, rotting wood, or the green fluff on rotting oranges, you are looking at microfungi. Similarly, the blue or green lines in some cheeses (mostly the ‘aromatic’ ones…) are a fungus growing and fruiting inside the cheese. All these fruiting bodies are conspicuous once you know what to look for, but are too small to see in any detail without some magnifying aid. Other microfungi are so inconspicuous that to find and view them one needs experience, special methods and sometimes even blind faith!