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Fungi Classification

Kingdom fungi consists of seven phyla. They are grouped based on their reproductive strategies.

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Fungi Classification

What type of fungus is this?

Obviously a mold. But what type of mold? There are thousands of known species of molds. How are they classified?

Classification of Fungi

For a long time, scientists considered fungi to be members of the plant kingdom because they have obvious similarities with plants. Both fungi and plants are immobile, have cell walls, and grow in soil. Some fungi, such as lichens, even look like plants (see Figure below).

Moss(plant) and lichen growing next to each other on a tree

Moss (Plant) and Lichen Growing on Tree Bark. Both fungi and moss are growing on this tree. Can you tell them apart?

The Kingdom Fungi

Today, fungi are no longer classified as plants. We now know that they have unique physical, chemical, and genetic traits that set them apart from plants and other eukaryotes. For example, the cell walls of fungi are made of chitin, not cellulose. Also, fungi absorb nutrients from other organisms, whereas plants make their own food. These are just a few of the reasons fungi are now placed in their own kingdom.

Fungal Phyla

Classification of fungi below the level of the kingdom is controversial. There is no single, widely-accepted system of fungal classification. Most classifications include several phyla (the next major taxon below the kingdom). Three of the most common phyla are compared in Table below.

Phylum Description Example
Zygomycota mainly terrestrial, live in soil and compost and on foods such as bread

black bread mold

Basidiomycota have many different shapes, considerable variation exists even within species

button mushrooms

Ascomycota found in all terrestrial ecosystems world-wide, even in Antarctica, often involved in symbiotic relationships

baker’s yeast


  • Fungi used to be classified as plants. Now, they are known to have unique traits that set them apart from plants. For example, fungal cell walls contain chitin, not cellulose, and fungi absorb food rather than make their own.
  • Below the level of the kingdom, classification of fungi is controversial.


  1. State why fungi were once classified as plants.
  2. Explain the significance of the chitin cell wall of fungi.
  3. Mushrooms belong to what phylum of fungi?

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    Ascomycota Terrestrial fungi found in ecosystems world-wide; defining feature is the ascus, a microscopic sexual structure in which nonmotile spores, called ascospores, are formed.
    Basidiomycota Varied group of fungi; filamentous fungi composed of hyphae (except for yeasts); reproduces sexually via the formation of specialized club-shaped end cells called basidia.
    chitin Tough carbohydrate that makes up the cell walls of fungi and the exoskeletons of insects and other arthropods.
    lichen Composite organism resulting from a mutualistic relationship between a fungus and a cyanobacterium or green alga.
    Zygomycota Terrestrial fungi that live in soil and compost and on foods such as bread; have resistant spherical spores that form during sexual reproduction.

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