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Fascinating Fungi & Their on/off Friendship with Trees

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Tree fungi are a diverse group of organisms that play important ecological roles in forest ecosystems. They are a crucial component of the forest ecosystem, as they decompose dead organic matter, recycle nutrients, and form symbiotic relationships with living trees.

In this blog, we will explore the fascinating world of tree fungi and their impact on our environment!

Fungi are vital to our forest eco-systems, the are the decomposers, without fungi everything that has ever died would still be there...whole. It is mad to think just how much we take them for granted!

Fungi are eukaryotic organisms that are essential for decomposing organic matter in the environment. Fungi are one of the most diverse groups of organisms on the planet, with over 100,000 known species. They are found in almost every environment, from the depths of the ocean to the tops of mountains. Fungi are divided into two main categories: macroscopic fungi, which produce visible fruiting bodies like mushrooms and toadstools, and microscopic fungi, which do not produce visible fruiting bodies and are commonly referred to as molds or mildews.

Tree fungi are a type of macroscopic fungi that grow on or within trees. They can be beneficial or harmful to the tree, depending on the type of fungi and the severity of the infection. Some tree fungi form mutualistic relationships with the tree and help it to absorb nutrients from the soil. Others cause damage to the tree by weakening its structure or by causing rot.

One of the most common types of tree fungi is the bracket fungi, this includes common fungi such as Hoof Fungus (Fomes Fomentarius), the Velvet-top Fungus (Phaeolus suchweinitzii) or any of the Ganoderma species (such as Artists' fungus) . These fungi grow on the trunks or branches of trees, forming large, shelf-like structures that can be several feet across. They are often seen on dead or dying trees, where they play an important role in the process of decomposition.

Fomes Fomentarius or 'hoof fungus', a bracket fungi that causes decay nf rot in the heartwood of trees.

Another type of tree fungus is the Armillaria root rot fungus, which is commonly known as the honey fungus. This type of fungi attacks the roots of trees and can cause them to become weak and eventually die. The honey fungus is particularly damaging to fruit trees and can lead to significant crop losses.

Armillaria mellea or 'honey fungus'. Honey fungus spreads underground, attacking and killing the roots of perennial plants and then decaying the dead wood. It is the most destructive fungal disease in UK gardens.

Another common type of tree fungi is the mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi help the tree to absorb nutrients from the soil, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen. In exchange, the tree provides the fungi with sugars and other nutrients that it produces through photosynthesis. This mutualistic relationship is essential for the health and growth of many trees. This relationship is so important that it is estimated that over 90% of all tree species rely on mycorrhizal fungi for their survival.

Tree fungi also play a vital role in the cycling of nutrients in the forest ecosystem. They break down dead organic matter, releasing nutrients back into the soil where they can be taken up by living trees. This process is essential for the health of the forest ecosystem, as it ensures that nutrients are constantly being recycled and made available to living organisms.

Mycorrhizae- the tiny white roots that make a huge difference to your tree/plant/shrub's health!

Despite their importance in the forest ecosystem, tree fungi are often overlooked by people. Many people see them as unsightly or even dangerous, as some species of tree fungi can cause decay in the wood of living trees. However, the vast majority of tree fungi are harmless, and that they play a vital role in the health and functioning of the forest ecosystem.

It is important to remember that tree fungi are an essential part of our environment, but they can also be harmful to trees if they are not properly managed. If you suspect that your tree is infected with a fungus, it is essential to contact a professional arborist who can diagnose the problem and recommend the appropriate treatment. Regular tree care, including pruning and fertilization, can also help to prevent fungal infections and keep your trees healthy and strong.

Image from a recent CPD course we undertook in tree inspection, with a primary focus on identifying fungi.

Check out the giant brackets of Ganoderma!

In conclusion, tree fungi are a diverse and important group of organisms that play crucial ecological roles in forest ecosystems. They decompose dead organic matter, recycle nutrients, and form symbiotic relationships with living trees. Although they are often overlooked, they are essential for the health and functioning of the forest ecosystem, and should be appreciated and protected. If you have trees on your property, it is essential to be aware of the signs of fungal infections and to take appropriate steps to manage them.

By working with a professional arborist and practicing regular tree care, you can help to ensure that your trees remain healthy and strong for years to come.

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