“Mycorrhizae” literally means “fungus” – “root” and describes the mutually beneficial relationship between the plant and root fungus. These specialised fungi colonise plant roots in a symbiotic manner and extend far into the soil. Mycorrhizal fungal filaments in the soil are truly extensions of root systems and are more effective in nutrient and water absorption than the roots themselves. More than 95 percent of terrestrial plant species form a symbiotic relationship with beneficial mycorrhizal fungi, and have evolved this symbiotic relationship over the past several hundred million years. These fungi predate the evolution of terrestrial plants, and it was the partnership with mycorrhizal fungi that allowed plants to begin to colonise dry land and create life on Earth as we know it.
The mycorrhizal symbiotic relationship centres on the plant’s ability to produce carbohydrates through photosynthesis and share some of these sugars with the fungus in return for otherwise unavailable water and nutrients that are sourced from the soil or growing media by the extensive network of mycelial hyphae produced by the fungus. It’s a two-way relationship of sharing resources between two species, thus a classic symbiotic mutualism. Mycorrhizal fungi rely on the plant, and the plant’s performance and survival are enhanced by the fungus.