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In early classification systems, plants and fungi were grouped together. While there are some similarities between these two kingdoms, there are some key differences that we will explore.

Characteristics of Fungi and Plants

Both the plant and fungus kingdoms have some common characteristics. First, they are both eukaryotic, meaning they belong to the Eukarya domain and their cells contain a nucleus and membrane-bound organelles. Both of them also have cell walls, are stationary, and are typically multicellular, which means they are made of multiple cells. Plants and fungi used to be grouped together but are no longer because of distinctive differences between these two groups.Plants, such as trees, flowers, and ferns, are eukaryotic, non-motile organisms that use photosynthesis to get energy.

Remember that photosynthesis is a process that converts sunlight and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugar. While both plants and fungi have cell walls, the cell walls in plants are made of cellulose. Fungus, such as mushrooms, yeast, and mold, are eukaryotic, non-motile organisms that are heterotrophic, which means that they must take in nutrients for energy. They have cell walls made of chitin.

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We can see these differences highlighted in the comparison here:

Different characteristics of plants and fungi
comparison between fungi and plants

While both are eukaryotic and don’t move, plants are autotrophic – making their own energy – and have cell walls made of cellulose, but fungi are heterotrophic – taking in food for energy – and have cell walls made of chitin.

Evolution of Plants

This plant-like protist was the early ancestor of plants.
nonvascular plants are seen in liverworts, hornworts, and mosses. All three groups are small, simple, and must live in moist environments.

Around 420 million years ago, a great advance in plant structure evolved – vascular tissues. The two types of vascular tissue – xylem and phloem – move water and food throughout plants. This development allowed plants to expand where they could live – they no longer needed to be in only moist environments. It also allowed them to grow bigger. This adaptation was so advantageous that more than 90% of all plant species are vascular. Examples of vascular plants include ferns and horsetails.

Cross section of a seed
An example of advanced fungi
Fungus Mushroom

The oldest forms of fungi, evolutionarily speaking, are small, simple, and live in lakes and soils. They generally have few complex structures. The next group is that of molds, such as the mold that grows on bread or fruit left out for too long.

These molds use root-like structures called hyphae to anchor themselves to whatever they happen to live on. The next group is the sac fungi such as truffles and morchella. These fungi have visibly distinctive parts, unlike molds, which often just look like fuzz. The most advanced group of fungi is probably what you normally think of when you hear the word fungus. This last group contains organisms such as mushrooms and shelf fungi. These fungi have distinctive structures for growth and reproduction.

Lesson Summary

Both plants and fungi are in the Eukarya domain, meaning they are made of eukaryotic cells that have a nucleus and membrane-bound organelles.

Another similarity is that they both evolved from protists.Plants, which are capable of photosynthesis, evolved from plant-like protists. Plants first moved from water to land before evolving to have vascular tissue for the movement of food and water within the plant. Another major evolutionary development was the creation of the seed. This specialized structure allowed for more diversity in plant reproduction.

Plants are most useful to us because they convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into sugars and oxygen through photosynthesis.Fungi, though once grouped with plants, are more similar evolutionarily to animals. Fungi evolved from fungus-like protists and have continued to develop more complex structures over time. Simple fungi are very small and can be found in water and soil, while more complex fungi, like mushrooms, have distinctive specialized structures for growth and reproduction. Fungi are useful because they help with decomposition, the recycling of nutrients, and the production of alcohol.

Learning Outcome

Following this lesson, you should have the ability to:

  • Compare and contrast the characteristics of plants and fungi
  • Trace the evolutionary history of both plants and fungi

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