Fungi Growth


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Micrograph shows clumps of small blue spheres. Each sphere is about 5 microns across.
Candida albicans. Candida albicans is a yeast cell and the agent of candidiasis and thrush. This organism has a similar morphology to coccus bacteria; however, yeast is a eukaryotic organism (note the nucleus). (credit: modification of work by Dr. Godon Roberstad, CDC; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

OpenStax Biology 2e

The vegetative body of a fungus is a unicellular or multicellular thallus. Unicellular fungi are called yeasts. Multicellular fungi produce threadlike hyphae (singular hypha). Dimorphic fungi can change from the unicellular to multicellular state depending on environmental conditions. Saccharomyces cerevisiae (baker’s yeast) and Candida species (the agents of thrush, a common fungal infection) are examples of unicellular fungi.

Most fungi are multicellular organisms. They display two distinct morphological stages: the vegetative and reproductive. The vegetative stage consists of a tangle of hyphae, whereas the reproductive stage can be more conspicuous. The mass of hyphae is a mycelium. It can grow on a surface, in soil or decaying material, in a liquid, or even on living tissue. Although individual hyphae must be observed under a microscope, the mycelium of a fungus can be very large, with some species truly being “the fungus humongous.” The giant Armillaria solidipes (honey mushroom) is considered the largest organism on Earth, spreading across more than 2,000 acres of underground soil in eastern Oregon; it is estimated to be at least 2,400 years old.

Photo depicts a light brown fungus growing in a Petri dish. The fungus has the appearance of wrinkled round skin surrounded by powdery residue. A hub-like indentation exists at the center of the fungus. Extending from this hub are folds that resemble spokes on a wheel.
A fungal mycelium. The mycelium of the fungus Neotestudina rosati can be pathogenic to humans. The fungus enters through a cut or scrape and develops a mycetoma, a chronic subcutaneous infection. (credit: CDC)

Most fungal hyphae are divided into separate cells by endwalls  called  septa  (singular, septum). In most phyla of fungi, tiny holes in the septa allow for the rapid flow of nutrients and small molecules from cell to cell along the hypha. They are described as perforated septa. The hyphae in bread molds (which belong to the Phylum Zygomycota) are not separated by septa. Instead, they are formed by large cells containing many nuclei (multinucleate), an arrangement described as coenocytic hyphae.

Part A is an illustration of septated hyphae. Cells within the septated hyphae are rectangular. Each cell has its own nucleus, and connects to other cells end to end in a long strand. Two branches occur in the hyphae. Part B is an illustration of coenocytic hyphae. Like the septated hyphae, the coenocytic hyphae consist of long, branched fibers. However, in coenocytic hyphae, there is no separation between the cells or nuclei. Part C is a light micrograph of septated hyphae from Phialophora richardsiae. The hyphae consists of a long chain of cells with multiple branches. Each branch is about 3 microns wide and varies from 3 to 20 microns in length.
Fungal hyphae. Fungal hyphae may be (a) septated or (b) coenocytic (coeno- = “common”; -cytic = “cell”) with many nuclei present in a single hypha. A bright field light micrograph of (c) Phialophora richardsiae shows septa that divide the hyphae. (credit c: modification of work by Dr. Lucille Georg, CDC; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

Fungi thrive in environments that are moist and slightly acidic, and can grow with or without light. They vary in their oxygen requirement. Most fungi are obligate aerobes, requiring oxygen to survive. Other species, such as members of the Chytridiomycota that reside in the rumen of cattle, are obligate anaerobes, in that they only use anaerobic respiration because oxygen will disrupt their metabolism or kill them. Yeasts are intermediate, being facultative anaerobes. This means that they grow best in the presence of oxygen using aerobic respiration, but can survive using anaerobic respiration when oxygen is not available. The alcohol produced from yeast fermentation is used in wine and beer production.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: