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Naturespeak

If you go into the woods today…

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This time of the year in the Sea to Sky corridor, with autumn rains fast approaching, results in the growth of lots of mushrooms in the area’s forests. People often think of mushrooms as a member of the Plant kingdom, but they belong to a separate kingdom of organisms called Fungi. The fungal kingdom has been estimated to contain about 1.5 million species. Mushrooms , yeasts and molds are all examples of fungi.

Our area boasts approximately 450 species from the Fungi kingdom. The fleshy, fruiting bodies of our local mushrooms are used by residents for edible and medicinal purposes, but these fungi also play a vital role in the health of our local ecosystems.

Different species of fungi provide different functions in the forest, all as a result of the fact that fungi lack chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the green pigment that many plants use to absorb energy from sunlight in order to make food.

Recalling your Grade 9 science terminology, mutualism is a symbiotic term that describes a close and often long-term relationship between individuals of different species where both derive a fitness benefit. Fungi have a mutualistic relationship with the roots of host plants, ranging from trees to grasses in our ecosystems. Fungi enhance the plants’ nutrients from the soil while tapping the trees’ store of photosynthetically generated simple sugars and vitamins.

Myco means mushroom, while rhizal means roots. The collection of filament cells that grow into the mushroom body is called the mycelium . The mycelium of mycorrhizal mushrooms can either cover the exterior or enter the interior roots cells of the host plants.

The mycelium also grow beyond the immediate root zone of the host plant as long, complex chains of cells that fork repeatedly in matrix-like fashion, spreading over acres to geographically defined borders. The mycelium can grow over half a kilometre a day, increasing the plant's absorption of nutrients, nitrogenous compounds, and essential elements (e.g. copper, zinc, phosphorus). To do this the mycelium secretes enzymes that break down organic complexes and then absorbs the newly-freed nutrients through their cell walls. These enzymes and the ability of the mycelium to selectively absorb materials, results in plants better protected against bacteria and other contaminants in the soil.

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