Mycorrhizal Fungi – How a little Fungus helps grow your Christmas tree as well as other plants.
Can you believe that a microscopically small mesh of fungi is responsible for providing you with the Christmas tree that makes your winter holiday season just perfect?
Pines, firs, Douglas firs, and spruces are the trees most commonly used as Christmas trees. All of them harbor a secret you probably have not heard about yet. They depend on a network of fungi called mycorrhiza that acts as an extension to their roots. The mycorrhizal fungi provide the trees with additional nutrients that the trees could not efficiently get on their own. They also make the intake of water easier for the tree.
In return the plant provides the fungus with sugar created by the tree through the use of light energy in a process called photosynthesis. This mutually beneficial relationship is another example for a symbiosis, as described before.
The mycorrhizal fungi also form fruiting bodies – mushrooms, many of which are edible.
Mycorrhizal Fungi everywhere
Mycorrhiza is almost everywhere in a healthy forest. It is believed that up to 90% of all trees are living in symbiosis with a mycorrhizal fungus. Without those fungal friends, most trees would not grow properly and stay small and weak. They would also be more vulnerable to diseases.
Some mycorrhizal fungi live in symbiosis only with a particular kind of tree; others form mutually beneficial relationships with various kinds of trees.
The two types of Mycorrhizal Fungi
There are two known main types of mycorrhiza that differ in the way they interact with the trees’ roots.
Endomycorrhizal fungi grow into the membrane of the cell of the tree’s root.
Ectomycorrhizal fungi form a sheet surrounding the root of the tree they live with. However, they usually do not grow into the cells of the tree’s root. There are some exceptions to this rule. Ectomycorrhizae are the ones associated with Christmas trees.
So next time you sing a Christmas carol under the Christmas tree think about the fact that you would not have a nice tree without the tiny fungal net called mycorrhiza.