By Katie Neis
Delicious, poisonous, beautiful—yet slimy and gross, a decomposer of all things dead, something your mother told you never to touch, and NEVER to eat wild: mushrooms.
Can a fungus really be all these amazing and horrific things at once? Furthermore, can a fungus and tree exist together in complete harmony? Turns out these two have been joined in eternal matrimony since the first time a plant rose from the ocean to put roots down on land.
Mycorrhiza is the term for the fungus in the soil that forms a symbiotic relationship with plants and trees. The fine hairs of the fungus intertwine with tree roots, exchanging nutrients to speed plant growth, stimulate fine root development, and extend the longevity of the roots.
With this new larger network, mycorrhiza and roots, the tree is better protected against drought, predators and microorganisms that can cause disease. A tree’s roots deliver sugar back to the fungus. At the same time, the fungus delivers nutrients back to the plant from decaying organic matter. It’s probably one of the most peaceful marriages on the planet.
Protect your mycorrhizas!
Mycorrhiza exists naturally in soil, but there are things you can do to protect—and encourage—its growth. Soil compaction and chemicals can damage your friendly fungus. Friends of Trees does not recommend inorganic fertilizer for our trees, but we do recommend a fresh layer of mulch once or twice a year. As the mulch breaks down, with the help of mycorrhiza, the fungus slowly seeps back into the soil, building the framework for healthy soil and a healthy tree.
-Neis is a Neighborhood Trees Assistant for Friends of Trees.