Fungi and plants might be members of two different kingdoms in the tree of life, but that doesn’t prevent some of them from forming special partnerships called mycorrhizae, a.k.a. “fungus roots”.
A Network that Feeds Plants and Improves Soil
Mycorrhizae are structures where fungal hyphae literally entwine with the plant roots so intimately that they directly share resources, a kind of “internet” within the soil. And this isn’t some minor anomaly – 70 to 80% of land plants form this partnership. It’s like an extension of the original plant root system. An added benefit is that the fungal hyphae are small enough to grow into tiny soil pores that bare roots can’t reach. That translates to more sources of water and nutrients for the plant. Phosphorous, a particularly hard-to-reach element, can be obtained by plants in this way. In return, the plant provides the fungus with food in the form of carbohydrates.
As these fungal networks permeate the ground, they also benefit the soil itself by improving the soil structure and water retention. Fungal hyphae bind soil into stable chunks called aggregates. As the thread-like hyphae extend through soil, they slough off a substance scientists call glomalin. This glomalin acts like a glue to hold the grains of soil together. Aggregates are a good thing, because they resist breaking apart in water, when it rains or a field is irrigated. Think of aggregates like a jar of pebbles. If you were to pour water into the jar, it would easily flow into the spaces between the individual pebbles because pebbles retain their form in water. When soil is made up of water-stable aggregates, water can quickly penetrate the surface and enter the soil where it can be stored and used by plants. In contrast, without the biological “glue” to hold particles together, these particles collapse as water hits the soil. The channels for water get plugged up, and so the water flows across the soil surface instead. Even worse, it can also carry some soil away with it causing erosion, a double whammy. Aggregated soil, thanks to our fungal friends, allows better water intake, distribution and retention – saving up for a (non)rainy day.
Fungi are one of seven types of life in the complete soil microbe biome. Other components of the Soil Food Web include bacteria, archaea, amoebae, flagellates, beneficial nematodes and micro-arthropods. All seven life forms rely, directly or indirectly, on plant root extrudates for sustenance and participate, along with fungi, in nutrient cycling, which in turn feeds the plants.
Supporting our Fungal Allies
What’s the best way to maximize the benefits from mycorrhizal fungi for your farm production or home garden? By providing an environment where they can thrive.
That means minimizing soil disturbance to avoid breaking up their networked structure. Minimizing the use of chemical pesticides, which can poison mycorrhizal fungi, too, not just the target pest. Adding conditioned biochar (SymSoil® FIB) is loaded with mycorrhizal and other fungal spores. Using cover crops to keep some mycorrhizal host plants growing in the soil at all times: these plant partners provide the fungi with food.
Mycorrhyzal fungi are a key component of the complete soil biome, but only live and reproduce on living plants. SymSoil adds mycorrhyzal fungi spores to the biochar used in each of our products. These are not counted in our “Active Fungi” measures of biology, but are included in “Fungal Potential” estimates of total fungal spores from all sources.
About SymSoil® Inc.
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A California “B (Benefit)-Corporation” SymSoil is a leader in development of biological soil amendments for agriculture that restores the microbes that provide the right food to the plant roots, improving plant health, and making food more nutrient dense and flavorful, the way nature intended. SymSoil has products and services for growers using regenerative agriculture methodologies which improve profitability. Its flagship product, SymSoil® RC (Robust Compost) is a complex community of soil microbes, which includes in excess of 1,000 species, covering broad biodiversity of bacteria, fungi, amoebae, and other protozoa, beneficial nematodes and microarthropods. SymSoil was named one of 2019’s AgTech Companies to Watch.