OK so this world I'm building has Earth-like flora and fauna, along with being around the size of Earth and being around the same distance as Earth from a star the size of the sun. The atmosphere is similar to Earth's as well, and the climate of the land area of the planet is temperate oceanic, similar to that of Britain or Ireland. Would it be possible that in the forests of this planet, trees are joined by tree-sized mushrooms? (When I say tree-sized mushrooms, I'm thinking ones around the size of huge red mushrooms from Minecraft, so not super tall but large enough to provide some fungal lumber)

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    $\begingroup$ Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi. That is, a mushroom is not a complete organism; in the lifecycle of fungi, mushrooms play the same role as flowers do for plants. The actual "body" of the fungus is below ground, and it is vaaastly biggger than the mushroom. If your mushrooms are the size of trees, how big are the fungi which produce them? Fungi subsist on consuming organic detritus: from where does this enourmous quantity of decaying organic matter come from? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 12 '20 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ You would need some sort of genetic modification to allow them to have strong stems. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 12 '20 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Given that fungi have chitinous cell walls (same material that forms insect exoskeletons), that shouldn't be terribly difficult. $\endgroup$ – Logan R. Kearsley Jul 12 '20 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Logan R. Kearsley: Perhaps not, but then there are few really large insects :-) Though it's perhaps more about the structure than the material: duplicating the cellular structure of wood in chitin rather than lignin could work. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 13 '20 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf That's not because chitin isn't strong. Look into the fossil record, and there are some much bigger insects, and even bigger terrestrial arthropods of other kinds. $\endgroup$ – Logan R. Kearsley Jul 14 '20 at 3:22

They did.

Now, the first trees evolved on Earth right around the same time that Prototaxites went extinct, so perhaps trees just out-compete them and they really can't co-exist... but it's not entirely obvious why Prototaxites disappeared when trees showed up. If they were actually lichens, relying on photosynthesis from their algal component to survive, then it makes sense that they would've been competing for light, but otherwise there's not a whole lot for a mushroom and a tree to compete for, and they should be able to co-exist just fine.

So, just make your giant mushrooms actual mushrooms, and not lichens. If they don't photosynthesize, or don't rely on photosynthesis, you will need some other excuse for them to grow tall, but that's easy to manage--maybe they do it for seed dispersal, for example.

  • $\begingroup$ great info, thanks! $\endgroup$ – Fattie Jul 12 '20 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ Not only do mushrooms and trees not compete, many plants have symbiotic associations with fungi: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mycorrhiza $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 12 '20 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf There are lots of fungi. My squash plant has a symbiotic relationship with bees, but not so much with vine borers. $\endgroup$ – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- Jul 13 '20 at 14:58

My comment as an addition to Logan R. Kearsley was too complex, but see this as an addition to his answer.

It would make it more difficult for a mushroom to grow into a treelike structure than a lichen. They draw energy most often from either living things or the decaying matter. That means it requires a constant source of other living things to grow, while not competing with too many other living things for space.

That being said: meet the Humongous Fungus. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.businessinsider.com/largest-living-organism-the-armillaria-ostoyae-fungus-2017-5%3famp I just grabbed the first google link, but should tell enough of the basics. It can grow huge and has here and there small mushrooms that break the surface (which incidentally is also how mushroom rings form. Certain kinds of fungi growing underground mostly circularly and grows our well known mushroons at the edges to spread it's seeds).

You can take lessons from it and have some fungi grow large underground, breaking the surface here and there to grow large treelike fungi. To add to this, fungi can do more than just decay things. They are used everywhere for communication between plants in exchange for nourishment. http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20141111-plants-have-a-hidden-internet (again, first google hit. I didn't really read it but should tell you the general stuff). You can use this for a less destructive form of the fungi.

So with some changes that are unlikely but not unrealistic, yes it might be possible.


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