Mycorrhiza – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Botanical Terms Glossary

I. What is Mycorrhiza?

Mycorrhiza is a symbiotic relationship between fungi and plant roots. The word “mycorrhiza” comes from the Greek words “myco,” meaning fungus, and “rhiza,” meaning root. In this mutually beneficial relationship, the fungi colonize the roots of plants, forming a network that extends the plant’s root system and helps it absorb nutrients from the soil. In return, the plant provides the fungi with sugars produced through photosynthesis.

II. What are the Types of Mycorrhiza?

There are two main types of mycorrhiza: ectomycorrhiza and endomycorrhiza. Ectomycorrhiza is characterized by the formation of a dense network of fungal hyphae around the plant root, while endomycorrhiza involves the penetration of fungal hyphae into the plant root cells.

Ectomycorrhiza is commonly found in trees, such as pines, oaks, and birches, while endomycorrhiza is more prevalent in herbaceous plants, grasses, and agricultural crops. Endomycorrhiza is further divided into arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM) and ericoid mycorrhiza, based on the structure of the fungal hyphae within the plant root.

III. How Does Mycorrhiza Benefit Plants?

Mycorrhiza provides several benefits to plants, including increased nutrient uptake, improved water absorption, enhanced resistance to pathogens, and better tolerance to environmental stresses. The fungal hyphae extend the plant’s root system, increasing the surface area available for nutrient absorption. The fungi also release enzymes that break down organic matter in the soil, making nutrients more accessible to the plant.

Furthermore, mycorrhiza can help plants cope with drought conditions by improving water uptake and reducing water loss through transpiration. The symbiotic relationship also enhances the plant’s defense mechanisms against harmful pathogens, such as bacteria and fungi, by triggering the plant’s immune response.

IV. How Does Mycorrhiza Form?

Mycorrhiza formation begins when fungal spores germinate in the soil and come into contact with plant roots. The fungi then colonize the root surface and penetrate the root cells, forming a symbiotic relationship with the plant. The fungal hyphae extend into the surrounding soil, increasing the plant’s access to nutrients and water.

The formation of mycorrhiza is a complex process that involves chemical signaling between the plant and the fungus. The plant releases specific compounds that attract the fungi, while the fungi produce enzymes that facilitate nutrient uptake by the plant. This intricate communication system ensures the successful establishment of the symbiotic relationship.

V. What is the Importance of Mycorrhiza in Ecosystems?

Mycorrhiza plays a crucial role in ecosystem functioning by promoting plant growth, nutrient cycling, and soil health. In forests, mycorrhizal fungi form extensive networks that connect trees and facilitate the exchange of nutrients between different plant species. This interconnected web of fungi helps maintain the balance of nutrients in the ecosystem and supports the growth of diverse plant communities.

Furthermore, mycorrhiza contributes to soil structure and fertility by enhancing soil aggregation and organic matter decomposition. The fungal hyphae create channels in the soil that improve water infiltration and aeration, while also sequestering carbon and storing nutrients for future plant growth. Overall, mycorrhiza is essential for maintaining the health and productivity of ecosystems.

VI. How Can Mycorrhiza be Cultivated in Gardens?

Mycorrhiza can be cultivated in gardens by introducing mycorrhizal inoculants, which are commercial products containing spores of beneficial fungi. These inoculants can be applied to plant roots during transplanting or mixed into the soil to establish a symbiotic relationship between the fungi and the plants. By incorporating mycorrhiza into garden soils, gardeners can improve plant growth, increase nutrient uptake, and enhance soil health.

In addition to using inoculants, gardeners can promote mycorrhiza formation by practicing sustainable gardening techniques, such as avoiding the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that can harm beneficial fungi. By creating a healthy and diverse soil ecosystem, gardeners can encourage the growth of mycorrhizal fungi and reap the benefits of this symbiotic relationship in their gardens.