Today I want to get a little bit deeper into the science of bowling green ecology, but I’m getting a little tired of the Ecology title sequence I stupidly started 9 articles ago. Instead of continuing to label them Ecology 1,2,3…etc, I will give them a tag of their own so that if you’re looking for them on the site you just need to type ecology into the search box.
Mycorrhizal Fungi (mycorrhizae) are specialised fungi that work with our grass plants to form symbiotic relationships with the roots. Most soils contain these fungi and each type has its own peculiar host preference. (i.e., each plant species has a specific species of mycorrhizae that it prefers to work with).
The name comes from the Latin word mycor meaning fungus and rhiza meaning root. “Mycorrhiza” is the singular form and “mycorrhizae” the plural and, in soil science the name refers to the tissue that forms when fungi and roots develop a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship.
One of the key benefits to our grass plant in this relationship is that it can increase the surface area of the plant roots by 100 or even as much as 1,000 times. On their own, the roots can only impact (draw moisture and nutrition from) about 3% of the soil volume that immediately surrounds them. Mycorrhizae create microscopic threads that effectively extend the root system or at least the impact of the root system. This means the plant is many times more effective in absorbing water and essential nutrients like zinc and phosphorus. Of course in any symbiotic relationship, the benefits cut both ways and in exchange, the fungus receives a ready supply of essential sugars and compounds from the roots which it needs to grow and thrive.
Mycorrhizae improve turf health, by increasing the grass plant’s ability to counter the effects of environmental stresses like drought and cold. On healthy greens where the turf has formed strong mycorrhizal relationships, there will be less need for artificial inputs of fertiliser and water and there will be fewer outbreaks of turf disease due to the plants being strong in their ecological niche.
One known by-product of mycorrhizal activity is the soil structure improving glycoprotein glomalin. Glomalin helps to bind tiny clay particles into larger clumps or aggregates, which increases the amount of macro pore space in the soil making it more accommodating to grass plant roots.
If we were still in Symptoms management mode, we might well ask “where can I buy some of these miracle mycorrhizae?”
Mycorrhizal cocktails can be purchased and are sometimes included in specialised products we can buy to treat greens. However, to think we can simply add mycorrhizae to our green and everything will be better, is flawed thinking I’m afraid.
The answer is, once more to get the physical properties of the green back to where they need to be and the mycorrhizae will be there in numbers. Trying to add them throws up the same old ecological conundrum as over seeding. It’s like introducing lambs to the wolf forest. The locals won’t put up with it!
What we must remember above all else in this subject area is that mycorrhizae are fungi…and fungicides kill fungi.
image credit: http://archive.bio.ed.ac.uk/