The holdings of eight collections of fungi have been examined for organisms isolated from wood and/or trees. Further selection of these fungi has been made according to their reported ability to produce volatile, biologically active metabolites. It is emphasized that the isolates in the collections do not necessarily produce such metabolites. The list of fungi fulfilling these conditions is slightly augmented by reports we have found in the literature, where the fungi concerned have not yet been deposited. The biochemistry of these compounds is considered with particular emphasis on their biosynthesis including that by Homo sapiens. The physiological and toxicological activity of these metabolites is reviewed especially with reference to their potential role in the complex symbioses existent in, for example, a tree. The review concludes with a discussion of areas of botany deserving increased attention in the hope that this will stimulate further work. The statements in the review are based on 173 references. Copyright © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.