Are you a trekker?
Do you like to stroll in a park with a natural ambiance?
What are things that you notice?
Is it the trees, birds, sunlight, wind, fallen leaves, or branches?
Whatever it may be, it is always what you see at your eye level and above. Nobody ever gives a thought to what lies beneath one’s feet. Next time you go for a walk, try looking at what lies below the soil, leaves, and moss that covers the ground. What is beneath them is the fascinating world of a microscopic network of fungus.
The most common fungus for the majority of people is a mushroom sprouting from the ground. In reality, the mushroom is the fruit of the fungus. The real fungus is the fungal organisms that live in the soil interwoven with tree roots as a widespread network of mycelium.
What is mycelium?
Mycelium is insanely tiny threads of the greater fungal organism that wrap around or grown within the roots of the tree. It is known to collectively form what is called a” mycorrhizal network.” This network connects individual plants for the transfer of water, nitrogen, and other important minerals. Interestingly, this widely spread network has been given the term “wood wide web” by German Forester Peter Wohlleben. It is actually through mycelium that trees communicate.
Mycelium is the part of a fungus that encourages the production of mushrooms. Think of mycelium as the roots while mushroom is the flower. For any plant, the root is from where it grows into a giant tree. putting into simpler terms, mycelium is from where mushroom germinates.
How does the network begin to form?
A spore comes in contact with an underlayer in an appropriate environment and conditions. The right kind of environment and conditions are important. It is only then germination happens. As soon as the process of germination takes place, it marks the begging of mycelium underneath the soil.
How does the network spread?
The growth of mycelium takes place when it releases enzymes into its surroundings. The purpose behind this act is to digest its environment and absorb every nutrient it can find. Each time mycelium releases an enzyme to digest and absorb, a cell wears off and continues its self-growth. This spring up more mycelium and develops a largely spread ecology.
How is it useful to us?
All kinds of organisms breathe in the soil. Some are good and some are bad. Mycelium while spreading its network faces challenges from its competitors called pathogens. To counter, mycelium develops enzymes and metabolites that protect both mycelium and the entire mushroom. It is these unique compounds that increase the nutritional value of the whole mushroom. It enables mushrooms to thrive and the mycelium incorporates our entire immune system when we include the mushrooms containing mycelium into our diet.
Next time you go for a walk in natural surroundings try to have a look at what is under the mushroom. It is fascinating to see the whole network of mycelium.