Why Your Plants Like to Get Down and Get Fungi

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Most of us have heard of mycorrhizae fungi and their association with the roots of a plant in a symbiotic or mildly pathogenic relationship. In fact, approximately 80 to 90 percent of all plants form symbiotic mycorrhizae fungi relationships by forming hyphae networks. The hyphae are about 1/60 the diameter of most plant root hairs and assist the plant in acquiring nitrogen, phosphorus, micronutrients and water in exchange for sugar exudations by the plant. This is similar to the manner in which some microbes feed on sugar exudations in exchange for supplying nutrients in forms that plant can uptake.

Hyphae interact with soil particles, roots, and rocks forming a filamentous body that promotes foraging for soil nutrients. Fungi act like natural recycling centers, reabsorbing and redistributing soil nutrients back to plant roots. Rich, biologically active soil promotes these relationships.

However, here’s the real kicker – plant roots alone explore 1 percent of the soil while fungi, like mycorrhizae, explore 20 percent of the soil. That’s a tremendous increase in a plant’s ability to capture water and extend nutrient access. Fungi also lay railroad tracks deep into the soil and as fungi grow and die they supply the microbial community with another food  source.

In addition, bacteria are only 20-30 percent efficient at keeping carbon in the soil, while fungi are 40-55 percent efficient in keeping carbon in the soil. Why is this important? Because carbon equals organic matter, and a 1 percent increase in organic matter means the land can hold another 20,000 gallons of water per acre.

It’s important to mention that not all fungi are good, as there are root-pathogenic fungi like Pythium and Verticillium that are very destructive. Still, most fungi are beneficial and there is a great deal of work being done exploring the use of fungi – to feed on harmful insects, for example, as a biocontrol agent.

Beneficial fungi along with some bacteria may also form protective webs and nets around roots and even leaves to protect the host plant (Lowenfels & Lewis, 2006; Sylvia et al., 2005). The fungus Trichoderma protects plant roots from attack by harmful microorganisms.

Clearly, we should all get fungi, and our compost teas like MetaGrow ST and our fish hydrolysate like Pacific Gro are simple applications (that include Trichoderma) that promote fungi development to energize root systems and support healthy plants.