Fungi Basics

Does a relationship exist between plants and fungi?

Yes, a relationship does exist between some plants and fungi—something many gardeners know about when it comes to certain plants. And it has to do with symbiosis— the close association of two or more different organisms. One type of symbiosis is known as mutualism, defined as an association that is advantageous to both parties. The most common—and possibly the most important since it represents almost four-fifths of mature plants—mutualistic relationship in the plant kingdom is known as mycorrhiza.

The word mycorrhiza is derived from the Greek mykes, meaning “fungus,” and rhiza, meaning “root.” Mycorrhiza is a specialized, symbiotic association between the roots of plants and fungi that occurs in the vast majority of plants—both wild and cultivated. In a mycorrhizal relationship, the fungi assist their host plants by increasing the plants’ ability to capture water and essential elements such as phosphorus, zinc, manganese, and copper from the soil and transferring them into the plant’s roots. The fungi also provide protection against attack by pathogens and nematodes. In return for these benefits, the fungal partner receives energy from carbohydrates, amino acids, and vitamins essential for its growth directly from the host plant—mostly during the process of the plant photosynthesis.


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