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Mycelium

Fairy Rings

Occasionally, if you’re lucky, you may come upon a circle of mushrooms in the woods or in a lawn.  To some, these are Fairy Rings, where the fairies dance.  To those more scientifically minded, they are the fruiting bodies of an underground fungus (mycelium) that is growing outward in all directions from an initial spot (in the center of the ring), feeding on nutrients in the soil.  As it grows, the mycelieum secretes enzymes into the ground ahead of it. These chemicals break down the organic matter, releasing nutrients so that the mycelium will have food when it reaches this area. When conditions are right for spore production, the active mycelium produces a circle of mushrooms just behind its outer edge.  Growth of the mycelium continues, accompanied by the formation of wider and wider circles of fruiting bodies every year.

There are roughly 60 species of fungi that produce Fairy Rings.  As a rule they form these in evenly composed soil, such as lawns and less frequently in woods.  It’s possible to recognize Fairy Ring evens when they haven’t sent up mushrooms, as they form rings of grass up to 15 feet in diameter that have a distinctly different color or texture than the grass inside or outside of the ring. (A Fairy Ring in France measured 2,000 feet in diameter and was estimated to be 700 years old.)  (Photos by Julie George)

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Mycelium

12-16-15 mycelium IMG_1568Yesterday’s post on fungal hyphae inspired a very talented naturalist/author to send me a poem she had written about the same subject. I was so taken with her poem that I asked permission to share it with you today. I hope it speaks to you as it does to me. (A mass of hyphae is referred to as mycelium.)

Mycelium

The mole has it at her fingertips, the slug
finds it delicious, the chipmunk
is a connoisseur of its networks,
under the deer’s sharp hooves,
it is broken and healed.

It is a blanket woven
in the bed of the earth.

It is patient as the desert,
willing to wait
a month or a season
for the engorgement of rain,
the carnal urgency of fruit ,
the ethereal casting of spores.

Some believe they know
about the longings of trees,
their reachings for the sky,
their intimacy with the air,
but a tree meets its true lover
in a secret tryst under the earth,
in the clasping of root tips
the sheathing, the enfolding,
the flowing back and forth,
the quenchings and bodily gifts
of the mycorrhyzal embrace.

Kathie Fiveash, author, Island Naturalist

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Mycorrhizal Relationships

12-15-15 white pine 047The woods are filled with all kinds of plants – herbaceous and woody, flowering and non-flowering. Each plant appears to be independent of all others, but this is an illusion. In fact, most of the plants in a forest are physically connected to one another. How and why this is so is a little known fact.

Fungal threads called hyphae (the subterranean body of a fungus that we don’t usually see) run throughout the soil. Each one is ten times finer than a plant’s root hair. While some are digesting dead organic matter, others are forming a relationship with photosynthetic plants. This mutually beneficial relationship between fungi and plants is referred to as mycorrhizal.

The very fine fungal threads are capable of penetrating plant cells, allowing the fungus to receive sugars that the photosynthetic plant has manufactured. At the same time, the fungus provides the plant with minerals (especially phosphates) it has garnered from the soil. Nearly all plants have mycorrhizal fungi wrapped in or around their roots, and many of these plants cannot live without their fungal partners. The real work of a plant’s roots may well be to serve as the connector to this network of fungal hyphae that exists in the soil. (photo: Eastern White Pine,Pinus strobus)

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