Characters.—Plants consisting of a congeries of cells or filaments, or both variously combined, increasing in size in the more perfect species by addition to their inside, their outside undergoing no change after its first formation; chiefly growing upon decayed organic substances, or soil arising from their decomposition, frequently ephemeral, and variously coloured, never accompanied, as in Lichens, by reproductive germs of a vegetable green called gonidia; nourished by juices derived from the matrix. Fructification either spores attached externally, and often in definite numbers, to the cellular tissue, and frequently on peculiar cells called sporophores or basidia, which are in many cases surmounted by fine processes which immediately support the spores, and called spicules or sterigmata; or inclosed in membranous sacs or asci, and then termed sporidia (Berkeley, in Lindley's Vegetable Kingdom).
Properties.—Variable: we have esculent, medicinal, and poisonous species; and unfortunately there are no anatomical characters by which the poisonous are to be distinguished from the edible fungi.
They are remarkable for containing a very large proportion of water; and for their dry matter rich in nitrogen and phosphates. Among their proximate constituents are several alimentary principles (e. g. albumen, sugar, mannite, and mucilage), and some poisonous ones (ergotin, tremellin, and amanitin). The substance called fungin, formerly considered to be a nutritive principle, appears to agree with cellulose in its nature.
The Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, Vol. II, 3th American ed., was written by Jonathan Pereira in 1853.