Fungal Diversity in the Chicago Region

The landscape surrounding the Chicago metropolis is a melting pot of woodlands, savannas, wetlands, and prairie, where the eastern deciduous forest meets the farmlands of the plains. And all is wrapped around the south end of Lake Michigan and overlaid on a diverse foundation of old dune ridges, moraines, and other glacial features. The variety of plant communities supports a very diverse composition of fungi (mycota or mycobiota). See Table below. There are more than 1,300 individual species of fungi found within this area of 30,557 square kilometers (11,798 square miles). The primary reason for the level of fungal diversity is the wide range of habitats found here which in turn is based on the diversity of plants and the geographic and geologic features of the area.

Despite the 130 year history of mycology collections here, much of this region has little or no documentation of its fungi. As of 2010, six of the twenty-four counties have no records and ten counties have 65 or fewer records. Only Cook County, Illinois, and Porter County, Indiana, can be said to be well documented. These two counties comprise 88% of all collections because of the 16 years of research in Cook County Forest Preserves and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Other counties that have over 300 historical and recent collections are DeKalb, DuPage, and Lake Counties in Illinois, and Lake County, Indiana. Of course, this pattern of spotty documentation is similar for many other states. There are a dozen type collections of fungi for the region from seven counties. Several undescribed species await further study and publication.

Most of the mushrooms and other macro-fungi in the region are thought to be native. Some of the fungi that favor urban areas, as well as cow and horse pastures, are likely introduced. In only a few cases is there enough documentation to determine the probable origin of a species. Fungi are dispersed around the world by the transport of wood, wood chips and mulch, livestock, transplanted trees, and other substrates. Because of the ephemeral nature of fungal fruitbodies, knowledge of their distribution and degree of rarity is often incomplete. Many European countries have "Red Lists" of endangered, threatened, and special concern species. Some North America fungi are listed in the Pacific Northwest states and Minnesota.

Table 1. Facts about Chicago Region fungi.
Chicago Region fungiNumber and Comment
Fungal taxa (species, subspecies, varieties, forms) approximately 1450 taxa; about 1350 species
Genera represented 370
Families represented 125
Species endemic to Chicago Region (not yet documented elsewhere) several, plus other Midwest endemic taxa
Threatened or endangered taxa none designated
Native fungi most of them
Non-native (alien) taxa unknown number, primarily urban fungi
Invasive taxa some plant diseases, such as Dutch Elm Disease
Also read about habitats, or biology, or see recommended books.

The vPlants Region is located within four states at the south end of Lake Michigan. photos of different colorful mushrooms

Fungi can be found in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Information provided on this page applies to the Chicago Region and may not be relevant or complete for other regions.