Yes, mycorrhizae (my-cor-rhi-zae) is some awesome stuff. What is it though? Mychorrhizae isn’t really an “it” – it’s a “what”. Mychorrhizae is the symbiotic relationship (usually mutually beneficial) between plants and fungal hyphae. You can think of hyphae as the fungal root system, while mushrooms are the visible fruits of fungi. You’ve seen them before – those fine, white, thread like things that are too small to be roots, but seem to bunch around plants. If you dig in forest soil, you’re almost sure to find a thick mat of hyphae working to decay the fallen organic matter on the forest floor. In mychorrhizae, the fine, thread like hyphae of fungi act as an extension of the plants root system, accessing moisture and nutrients that the plant on its own couldn’t access. In exchange for the service provided by fungal hyphae, plants will “feed” carbohydrates and B vitamins to the fungi.
This is some really neat stuff folks. While the scientific understanding of mychorrhizae is fairly shallow, there has been increasing interest in mychorrhizae and especially in its applications in agriculture. I’m convinced that mychorrhizae, which science has shown to have been in around for millions of years, is the next big thing in sustainable agriculture. Think about it – instead of dumping excessive fertilizers and treating weak, diseased plants with insecticides and fungicides we could be using mychorrhizae to naturally increase plant health and vigor using technology that is millions of years old. There’s no run off, no nasty chemicals, no environmental impact. Just healthy, strong plants that can naturally resist disease and insect damage. At the very least, fertilizer and chemical use could be reduced so it is only applied when actually needed.
Even if you don’t inoculate your garden, it’s very likely mychorrhizae is already occurring underneath the surface of your soil. Good, healthy soil should have numerous organisms, including fungi, bacteria and insects. Inoculated just helps this process along in newer gardens or gardens that are suffering from poor nutrition.
I first learned about mychorrhizae during my undergrad at the University of Washington. However, I’ve since found numerous articles and sites that explain in depth what mychorrhizae is and how you can apply it to your own farm or garden.
- Mycorhizae: So, What the Heck Are They Anyway? Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, WSU Science Editor. MasterGardnerOnline.Com
- The Garden’s Homegrown Ally: Mycorrhizal fungi could be the secret ingredient to making the perfect soil. Organic Gardening.
- Mycorrhizae help feed your plants. Greg Quinn. Fine Gardening Issue 96.
1) “Hyphae” by TheAlphaWolf – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hyphae.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Hyphae.JPG
2) “Mycorrhizal root tips (amanita)”. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mycorrhizal_root_tips_(amanita).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Mycorrhizal_root_tips_(amanita).jpg