Thursday, March 08, 2012

Mycorrhizae and the web of life

A squirrel feeding on mushroom

The role of mycorrhizae in the garden

Mycorrhizae, the symbiotic fungi that feed on organic matter from green plants and, in return, supplies them with water and minerals, is an essential part of an ecosystem. More than 80% of all land plants depend to some extent on mycorrhizae.

In turn, mycorrhizae need the help of some animals to spread the spores. The squirrel is one of these friends of mycorrhizae. By eating mushrooms, the fruiting bodies of mycorrhizae, they take in spores and pass them through their intestines, depositing them later on far from the mother fungus.

A mycorrhizal mushroom

There are opportunists that take advantage of others, in nature as well as in human society. Some green plants have lost their chlorophyll; so they obtain their food from others. This is the case of Indian pipe, a small whitish plant growing among the leaf litter. The above ground part of the plant is just a stem with a few highly reduced and useless leaves and a flower that bends down resembling a pipe, hence the name. Indian pipe's roots extract nutrients from the mycelium of fungi, most commonly mycorrhizal fungi. They, indirectly parasitize the trees that nourish the mycorrhizae.

Indian pipe, a parasitic plant

Root Partners. Mycorrhizae

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© Beatriz Moisset. 2012

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