I am a gardener and where I live the spring weather has been wet and coolish to downright cold. As I dig through my gardens however, I am delighted to find dense networks of mycelium in the straw, leaves and wood chips that cover my garden beds, and in the beds themselves. Mycelium in soil looks like white, cobwebby networks. It can look like a garden is being overrun with something alarming, and in gardening chat groups, questions about what it is and how to get rid of it pop up. Quite the opposite – we want to encourage this.
Mycelium help with the decomposition of organic matter and crucially, mycelium help with the transfer of water and nutrients to plant life. Mycologist, Paul Stamets, has been aware of the importance of mycelium for many years. In his book, Mycelium Running, Stamets attributes mycelium to the glue that holds everything together, similar to neural networks in the brain. Moreover, Stamets is certain that these mycelial networks are ‘intelligent’.
Stamet’s observations and theories are now widely supported by scientists. Ecologist, Suzanne Simard, in her book, Finding the Mother Tree, talks about how trees in a forest are connected to ‘Mother Trees’ through vast underground networks of mycorrhizal mycelium networks, and how these networks facilitate the transfer of water and nutrients. She goes further to show through her research how trees can communicate distress to each other through the release of chemicals that are transported through the roots of trees and understory plants, and carried via mycelial networks, warning other trees of danger from insects, for example. Trees, particularly large trees, store vast quantities of carbon. Simard pleads for the protection of old growth forests as a key strategy in addressing climate change. With the decimation of old growth forests globally, her message is critical to our understanding of how important healthy forest ecology is to the survival of planet earth. In his book, Entangled Life, biologist Merlin Sheldrake, calls these complex fungal networks, the ‘Wood Wide Web’.
So, for gardeners, celebrate the mighty mycelium, and do a happy dance when you find it in your garden beds. You want it there. For non-gardeners, choose organic fruits, vegies, grains, eggs and meat knowing that the nutrients in your food have been significantly boosted through the work of these life-giving networks.
To learn more:
Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World. Paul Stamets, 2005
Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. Suzanne Simard, 2021
Entangled Life: How Fungi Makes our Worlds, Change our Minds & Shapes our Future. Merlin Sheldrake, 2021