Plant Blights vs. Cup Fungi
Sphere fungi, the largest group of ascomycetes, are characterized by fruiting bodies in the shape of small spheres or flasks. Each of these fruiting bodies has a small pore through which its spores escape. Many species also produce conidia.
Some sphere fungi parasitize plants, while others live on dead organic matter. Among the parasitic varieties is the chestnut-blight organism. Introduced into New York from Asia about 1900, it has almost completely destroyed the American chestnut tree. Other species of the sphere fungi cause Dutch elm disease, oak wilt, apple scab, dogwood anthracnose, and cereal ergot.
The genus known as Neurospora has been tremendously useful to science. The simple structure of its genetic material has enabled scientists to study it in great detail. Studies of Neurospora in the mid-20th century laid the foundation of modern genetics and genetic engineering.
This large group of sac fungi are named for their cup-shaped fruiting bodies, which vary in size from that of a pinhead to several inches across. The largest forms tend to be fleshy cups or saucer-shaped bodies, often brightly colored. The majority of cup fungi live on dead wood, decaying leaves, and soil. Some cause destructive diseases. The brown-rot fungi, for example, attack peaches and other stone fruits, as well as apples and pears.
Some of the larger species are edible. Among the most popular are the mushroomlike morels, recognized by their conical, pitted caps. Closely related to the morels are the truffles. The truffle’s fruiting body is unusual in that it grows underground. The truffle’s thallus (main body) is mycorrhizal (symbiotically associated with plant roots), mainly on oaks and hazelnuts. Truffle hunters “sniff out” these highly prized delicacies using specially trained dogs and pigs.