The 10 differences between fungus and plant - medical - 2023



We have not recorded even 1% of all the species that could be on Earth. And yet, without a doubt, one of the greatest achievements in the history of not only biology, but science in general, has been that of group the more than 1,200,000 identified species into clearly delimited kingdoms.

Nature does not understand classifications or hierarchies, but we have been able to develop a system that allows us to introduce any species discovered (and that we will discover in the future) into one of the seven kingdoms: animals, plants, fungi, chromists, protozoa, bacteria and archaea.

Even so, this system has not always been the same. It has been through many modifications. And one of the most important revolutions in taxonomy took place in 1969 when Robert Whittaker, a celebrated American ecologist, said that fungi, by their characteristics, should form their own independent kingdom.

Until then, these organisms were thought to be plants. And, in fact, they have some characteristics that can make you think that they are plants. Still, once we analyze its biology, we realize that the fungal kingdom has nothing to do with the plant. And in today's article we will discuss the differences between fungi and plants.

  • We recommend you read: "The 7 kingdoms of living beings (and their characteristics)"

What is a mushroom? And a plant?

Before analyzing their differences in depth, it is important and interesting to define both living beings individually. And it is that understanding at a biological level what fungi are and what plants are, the differences between the two kingdoms will begin to be very clear. Let's go there.

Mushrooms: what are they?

Fungi are both unicellular and multicellular eukaryotic organisms always made up of fungal cells.. Since 1969 they have constituted their own kingdom (until then they were within the plant kingdom) and, to date, we have identified a total of 43,000 species of fungi, although their true diversity is estimated at more than 600,000 species.

They are heterotrophic beings, which means that, as a source of carbon and energy, they require the degradation of organic matter. They are not capable of photosynthesis. Like animals, fungi have to “eat”, although unlike us, they perform intracellular digestion and are usually saprophytic, that is, they use organic matter in decomposition and in humid conditions, which is why it is common ( in the case of mushrooms) find them on floors or on wood.

Fungi appeared about 1.3 billion years ago from the evolution of parasitic protozoa and it is the closest kingdom to animals, which explains why are halfway between plants and these animals.

The fungal cells of fungi always have a cell wall (one of the main reasons why they were considered as members of the plant kingdom), although while the plant cell wall is cellulose, that of fungi is chitin, a type of carbohydrate.

Fungi reproduce by spores and there are some species that can behave as pathogens, having fungi that can infect humans. But beyond these pathogenic species, the metabolic and ecological diversity is enormous. From molds to yeasts, to edible, poisonous and even hallucinogenic mushrooms, there are very varied forms of life within this realm.

  • To know more: "Fungi Kingdom: characteristics, anatomy and physiology"

Plants: what are they?

Plants are multicellular eukaryotic organisms made up of plant cells, which have the almost exclusive property in nature (shared with cyanobacteria and algae) to carry out photosynthesis. They have constituted their own kingdom since the first conception of kingdoms made by Carlos Linnaeus, a Swedish naturalist, in 1735. To date, we have identified 215,000 species of plants, although their true diversity is estimated at 298,000 species.

They are autotrophic beings, which means that they do not have to consume organic matter to obtain carbon, but are capable of “generating their own food”. Plants carry out photosynthesis (They are photoautotrophs), a biochemical process that allows them to obtain chemical energy from sunlight, an energy that they will use to synthesize their own organic matter thanks to the fixation of atmospheric carbon dioxide. They are the only photosynthetic multicellular organisms.

Plants are always formed by the union of millions of plant cells, which, in addition to being autotrophic, have a cellulose cell wall, which forms a kind of armor around their plasma membrane.

The presence of this cell wall makes plants more limited in terms of morphological diversity, but even so we have very different species among them. From a bush to a redwood, the plant kingdom is fascinating.

All plant cells contain, inside their cytoplasm, in addition to a large vacuole (an organelle that helps maintain water balance and store water and nutrients), chlorophyll, a pigment present in chloroplasts and that not only makes possible the photosynthesis, but makes the green color predominate in these species.

  • To know more: "Plant kingdom: characteristics, anatomy and physiology"

How are fungi different from plants?

After individually analyzing what they are, the moment of truth has arrived: to see exactly the differences between a fungus and a plant. Surely these differences have already been quite clear, but even so we have prepared a selection of key points to see it even better. Let us begin.

1. Plants are always multicellular; fungi can also be unicellular

One of the most important features. There is not a single species of single-celled plant. On the other hand, of fungi, although there are multicellular beings (such as mushrooms), there are also species in which the individual is made up of a single cell (such as yeasts).

2. Plants are autotrophic; fungi, heterotrophs

Plants are autotrophic, which means that they are capable of synthesizing organic matter from inorganic molecules. That is, they create their own food. Fungi, on the other hand, are heterotrophs like us, which means that, as a carbon source, we use organic matter and, as waste, we produce inorganic matter. Fungi are unable to create their own food.

3. Fungi cannot photosynthesize

One of the most important differences. There is not a single fungal species capable of photosynthesis. As we have said, they are heterotrophs, so obviously they cannot synthesize organic matter from the energy obtained from light. Photoautotrophy (or photosynthesis) can only be performed by photosynthetic organisms: plants, algae, and cyanobacteria.

4. Fungi can be pathogenic; the plants, no

Unlike animals but also plants, some species of fungi have developed the ability to infect other living beings. Some fungi can colonize tissues and organs of other animals (including humans) and cause disease. In the case of plants, there is not a single pathogenic species.

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5. The cell wall of plants is made of cellulose; that of fungi, of chitin

Both plants and fungi have a structure that surrounds the plasma membrane and is known as a cell wall. a trait that mistakenly led mushrooms to be believed to be plants. But there is a very important difference. While the plant cell wall is made of cellulose, the fungal cell wall is made of chitin, a type of carbohydrate present in these fungi and, for example, in the exoskeleton of arthropods.

6. Fungi are evolutionarily older than plants

As we have said, fungi appeared about 1.3 billion years ago from the evolution of parasitic protozoa. Plants, on the other hand, arose 541 million years ago and they come from the evolution of aquatic algae. And vascular plants (the most evolved) arose "only" 400 million years ago. Fungi are much older than plants.

7. More plant species have been discovered

While 43,000 species of fungi have been discovered, 215,000 species of plants are currently recorded. Therefore, more plant species than fungal species have been identified. Even so, as we will see, it seems that this is not the reflection of reality.

8. The true diversity of fungi on Earth is greater than that of plants

Although more plant species have been recorded, it is estimated that the actual diversity of fungi could be much higher. In fact, while the total diversity of plant species is estimated at 298,000 species, that of fungi is estimated at more than 600,000 species. There are many more species of fungi to discover than plants.

9. Fungi are haploid; plants, diploid

While plants and animals are diploid (they have two chromosomes of each), fungi are haploid. That is, while plant cells have two pairs of chromosomes, fungal cells only have one of each. A very important characteristic at the genetic level.

10. Plant cells contain a large vacuole; the fungi, no

Vacuoles are cellular organelles that serve to maintain water balance and store both water and nutrients. Animal and fungal cells also have vacuoles, but usually several of a small size and dispersed throughout the cytoplasm. They represent a small portion of the internal cellular environment. In plant cells, on the other hand, there is a single large vacuole that occupies practically the entire cytoplasm. On a physiological level, a very important difference.