20th February 2023

Fungus is not something we normally think about beyond mushrooms for a meal.  It can seem unhelpful when we find our food has spoiled and gone mouldy.  But this function of fungi plus bacteria to break down organic matter is essential.  Not only does it help to produce soil, it also keeps our planet healthy, recycling organic material instead of allowing it to pile up unwanted.  And of course penicillin is derived from a mould.

But even more important are the mycelium networks that link the roots of plants and trees.  They were a critical feature that enabled plants to successfully move from aquatic environments onto the land.  This was a symbiotic relationship (mutually beneficial).  The fungi enabled the plants to access water and nutrients from the barren land, and they received carbohydrates from the photosynthesising plants.  It is a very intimate relationship with fungi colonizing the plants’ cellular tissue (called arbuscular mycorrhizae or AM) to maximize the transfer of nutrients.  Today 85% of plants remain in such AM symbiosis.  Trees and woody plants have developed an extracellular involvement with fungi (EcM) instead, accounting for 3% of plant species.  To quote Jude Currivan in her recent book ‘The Story of Gaia’:

While AM partnerships don’t affect the root morphology of their plants, EcM ones do.  EcM fungi can’t break through the wood-strong cell walls of their plant partners.  Instead, they form a double sheath around their roots and construct a sensing and communicating mesh of hyphae known as a Hartig net.  Increasing root branching, they expand the plants’ root systems, extending interconnectedness and signaling.  In doing so, they’ve progressively increased the distributed intelligence and learning abilities of their host plants and their ecosystems of tropical, temperate, and boreal forests….While all mycorrhizal symbioses are beneficial in boosting the host plants’ immune systems, EcM is especially advantageous.

Jude Currivan. The Story of Gaia – The Big Breath and the Evolutionary Journey of our Conscious Planet.  Inner Traditions. 2022


The sunlight falls,
flickers off leaves and fronds
of fern, weaves
patterns in the hedgerows that guard
the garden, tumbles
and teases the edges of shade,
the glade alight with it,
the space hugging the watching
trees that are icons,
the grass between
a prayer mat
to sit and soak in the sun’s syrup
as I lose myself
in the soaring sky.

The place changes,
lifts off from the physical, visual
reality of suburban plot
to become a world charged with the glister
of new-born buds, of ants
scurrying in the dirt, of God;
the invisible vigour of life’s longing,
the myriad unseen creatures,
the roots and the fungi,
the surging push inside cells,
inside souls, tingles in the air
like incense.