Growing the Ecosystem with Mycelium!
It's not just about the plants above the soil and what you can see when you look at a garden, forest, or wetland, even when native plants have been cultivated!
At Origin Native Plants, we are concerned about the connectivity and resiliency of the whole ecosystem and how all the species have evolved together over thousands or hundreds of thousands of years (but we’ll save that evolutionary aspect for a future post!).
In addition to the native plants above ground, it’s also about highly complex systems and processes happening underground through networks of roots, microorganisms, interwoven threads of mycelium, and more.
Mycelium, the true bodies of mushrooms and other fungus, are networks of tiny “threads” that wrap around rocks and live roots and bore into dead and decaying roots and other organic matter. Mycelium secrete enzymes that break down complex organic molecules into digestible nutrients that they can absorb and use to grow. Mushrooms are actually just the reproductive structures of the mycelium: they produce and release spores that are dispersed through the air.
Mycelium, as it turns out, plays an incredible role in the health and structure of soils, and the biodiversity of the ecosystems they are a part of through their interaction with other crucial species.
Mycelium and bees
Native bees are a keystone species that provide a huge contribution to their ecosystems, influencing the structure and providing stability to their ecological communities. For instance, the health of native bees affects the health of the larger ecosystem because their nutrients move up the
food chain when they are prey for other animals. Bees have been found digging in the ground through debris and soil to access and feed on mycelium and water droplets that are on it. Research by Paul Stamets and others has shown that the mycelium is like a 'pharmacy' for bees and other native pollinators, providing resistance against bacteria, harmful fungi or viruses and thus contribute to their immune health. Findings related to the connection between bee health and mycelium has provided very important breakthroughs that can help honeybees.
Like native bees, honeybees (including Apis malifora) have been impacted by many environmental pressures and are threatened by colony collapse disorder. Furthermore, destruction to the environment and soil has depleted mycelium and thus, bee pharmacies. However, Honeybees fed mycelium have a greater resistance to viruses (one of the main threats to their health), and the nutritional support provided by mycelium facilitates improved hive health. This has led to the development of products to supplement honeybees with mycelium.
Mycelium and trees
The incredible connections that mycelium provide don’t stop at bees. A symbiotic relationship is formed between mycelium and plant roots to create fungal roots, or mycorrhiza. Mycorrhizal networks are formed when individual plants are connected by mycorrhiza and mycelium. In healthy forests, each tree is connected to others via this network, and these intricate and extensive connections transfer water, nitrogen, carbon, and other minerals between the plants on a constant basis.
Ever wonder how a sapling grows in the shade of a forest where very little light reaches its few leaves? The sapling relies on nutrients from older, taller trees sent through the mycorrhizal network to survive and flourish. In fact, a study on Douglas-fir trees, indicates amazingly, that trees recognize the root tips of their relatives and favor them when sending carbon and nutrients through the fungal network. The networks they form are complex, often made up of not just multiple plants but multiple species. While the fungi are acting in their own best interests, they facilitate the health and survival of even the biggest trees! The mycorrhizal network is critical to supplying the life-giving nutrients that keep our forests healthy.
(Busato, Macrina. https://medium.com/)
At Origin Native Plants
This is why, when we set out to establish a native plant nursery, the decision to inoculate all of our soils with mycelium was an obvious one. By doing this, when you plant our native grasses, saplings, shrubs, or other plants, you contribute to connecting and developing the mycelial network in that area, supporting the surrounding native plants, trees, bees, other native wildlife, and ultimately the whole ecosystem and biodiversity of the area. The goal is to get your property to link back up with the mycelium networks of adjoining natural areas.
For the exceptionally curious and those passionate about biology, you may be wondering what species of fungi we inoculate our soils with! Here you go:
Glomus intraradices, G. mosseae, G. aggregatum, G. etunicatum
Glomus deserticola, G. monosporum, G. clarum,
Rhizopogon villosulus, R. luteolus, R. amylopogon, R. fulvigleba
Laccaria bicolor and L. laccata
Scleroderma cepa and S. citrinum
These are all mushrooms species that are native to North American and are non-poisonous.
When conducting restoration work, including the planting of native species, there are many things to hypothesize on, and hope that what you're doing right, based on past experiences and mentoring from others. This is why our work is based in researched, evidence-based science, and why we offer services to advise on planting combinations for different ecozones.
Wanting to reestablish the health and resiliency of the ecosystem on your property? Please get in touch! We’d love to hear from you and support you in your project, whether it is through supplying the right plants, or providing a plan or a consultation.
Easton-Calabria, A., Demary, K. C., & Oner, N. J. (2019). Beyond Pollination: Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) as Zootherapy Keystone Species. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 6, 161. https://doi.org/10.3389/FEVO.2018.00161/BIBTEX
Francis, R., Read, D. J., Francis, R., & Read, D. J. (1984). Direct transfer of carbon between plants connected by vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizal mycelium. Natur, 307(5946), 53–56. https://doi.org/10.1038/307053A0
Fungi Perfecti. (2021). “Give bees a chance with innovative mushroom mycelium solutions”. https://fungi.com/pages/bees
Gabbatis, J. (2020). “Can the wood-wide web really help trees talk to each other?” Science Focus. https://www.sciencefocus.com/nature/mycorrhizal-networks-wood-wide-web/
Grant, R. (2018). “Do Trees Talk to Each Other?” Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-whispering-trees-180968084/
Litster, M. (2021). “Mycelium: The Highway Under the Soil”. Mayne Island Conservancy. https://mayneconservancy.ca/mycelium-the-highway-under-the-soil/
Plumb, T., Carver, J. Kersula, M., McInnis, M. & Berecka, M. (2021). “Mushroom Extracts: The Mycelium vs. fruiting Body Dispute”. North Spore. https://northspore.com/blogs/the-black-trumpet/mushroom-extracts-the-mycelium-vs-fruiting-body-dispute
Stamets, P. E., Naeger, N. L., Evans, J. D., Han, J. O., Hopkins, B. K., Lopez, D., Moershel, H. M., Nally, R., Sumerlin, D., Taylor, A. W., Carris, L. M., & Sheppard, W. S. (2018). Extracts of Polypore Mushroom Mycelia Reduce Viruses in Honey Bees. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-32194-8
Thomas, P. (2008). “Give Bees a chance”. Ecologist Informed By Nature. https://theecologist.org/2008/feb/11/give-bees-chance