Mycorrhizae: A Powerful Tool for Enhancing Crop Cultivation

Mycorrhizae: A Powerful Tool for Enhancing Crop Cultivation

Mycorrhizae are like a secret weapon for your crops. These underground partners boast a network of fungal threads that act like tiny extensions of the root system. They reach far and wide, unlocking vital nutrients for plants and working overtime like miniature sponges to soak up water, especially during droughts, and even fight off bad guys in the soil.

Mycorrhiza is an example of a symbiotic association where both the plant and the fungus receive a mutualistic benefit. In this type of relationship, the two organisms live in close association with each other, and each derives benefits from the other’s presence.

For plants, mycorrhizae act as an extension of the root system, allowing them to access water and nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable. In return, the fungus receives sugars produced by the plant through photosynthesis.


The word mycorrhiza (mycorrhiza: singular, Mycorrhizae: plural word) comes from the Greek words “mykes” meaning fungus and “rhiza” meaning root. So literally translated, it means “fungus root”. This aptly describes the symbiotic association between the fungal filaments and the plant roots.

In this symbiotic association, the fungus colonizes the roots of the plant and forms a network of filaments that extend outward into the soil. These filaments, called hyphae, greatly increase the surface area of the plant’s root system, allowing the plant to absorb more water and nutrients from the soil. In return, the fungus receives sugars and other organic compounds that are produced by the plant through photosynthesis.

Types of Mycorrhizae

Mycorrhizae come in various forms, each with its own unique characteristics and plant partnerships. Traditionally, Mycorrhizae were classified into two main types based on the location of the fungal hyphae in relation to the plant root:

  • Ectomycorrhizae: These form a sheath around the roots of the plant. They are commonly found in trees such as pines, oaks, and birches.
  • Endomycorrhizae: These penetrate the cells of the plant’s roots. They are more common than ectomycorrhizae and are found in a wide variety of plants, including most flowering plants.


  • Structure: In ectomycorrhizae, the fungal hyphae form a sheath around the root tips of the plant, but do not penetrate the root cells themselves. This sheath creates a massive surface area for nutrient and water exchange.
  • Plant Partners: Ectomycorrhizal fungi tend to partner with trees in forest ecosystems, particularly conifers, oaks, and birches.
Plants that benefit from ectomycorrhizae

Ectomycorrhizae form partnerships primarily with trees in forest ecosystems. Here’s a list of some common plant families and examples that benefit from it:


  • Pinaceae (Pine family): Pine, Spruce, Fir, Douglas Fir, Hemlock, Larch
  • Cupressaceae (Cypress family): Cypress, Cedar, Juniper
  • Taxaceae (Yew family): Yew


  • Fagaceae (Beech family): Oak, Beech, Hazelnut
  • Betulaceae (Birch family): Birch, Alder
  • Salicaceae (Willow family): Willow, Poplar


  • Structure: In endomycorrhizae, the fungal hyphae penetrate the root cells of the plant, forming intracellular structures called arbuscules. These arbuscules are the primary site for nutrient and water exchange.
  • Plant Partners: Endomycorrhizae are the most common type of mycorrhiza, forming partnerships with over 80% of plant families. This includes a wide variety of plants, from grasses and wildflowers to vegetables and fruit trees.

Further Breakdown of Endomycorrhizae:

Within the endomycorrhizal category, there are several subcategories with some distinctive features:

  • Arbuscular Mycorrhizae (AM): This is the most prevalent form of endomycorrhiza, forming partnerships with most flowering plants. Arbuscular Mycorrhizal fungi are particularly effective at helping plants absorb phosphorus, a crucial nutrient that is often limiting in soil.
  • Ericoid Mycorrhizae: These mycorrhizae are associated with plants in the Ericaceae family, which includes heather, ling, and blueberries. They are found in acidic, nutrient-poor soils and help these plants to thrive in harsh environments.
  • Orchid Mycorrhizae: As the name suggests, this type of mycorrhiza is specific to orchids. Orchid seeds lack chlorophyll and cannot photosynthesize until they establish a mycorrhizal partnership. The fungus provides the orchid seedling with essential nutrients until it matures.
  • Monotropoid Mycorrhizae: These mycorrhizae are found in plants that lack chlorophyll altogether, such as ghost pipes and Indian pipes. The fungus provides the plant with all its carbon needs, essentially acting as a parasite.

The type of mycorrhiza that a plant forms depends on a variety of factors, including the plant species, soil conditions, and climate. Understanding these different types of mycorrhiza is essential for promoting healthy plant growth and improving the overall health of ecosystems.

Crops/plants that benefit from endomycorrhizae

As endomycorrhiza (AM fungi) form partnerships with over 80% of plant families, the list of plants that benefit from them is incredibly vast. Here’s a breakdown of some major plant categories that typically associate with Arbuscular Mycorrhizal fungi:

  • Vegetables: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, lettuce, spinach, carrots, potatoes, onions, and most other common vegetables.
  • Cereals: Wheat, Rice, Barley, Maize, Sorghum, Oat etc.
  • Fruits: Apples, pears, peaches, plums, citrus fruits, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and most other fruit trees and shrubs.
  • Flowers: Roses, lilies, tulips, daisies, petunias, impatiens, marigolds, and most other flowering plants.
  • Trees: Oaks, maples, pines, birches, elms, poplars, willows, and most other forest and ornamental trees.
  • Grasses: Lawns, pastures, wheat, barley, corn, rice, and most other grasses.
  • Shrubs: Azaleas, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, hollies, and most other ornamental shrubs.

It’s important to note that while most plants benefit from endomycorrhizae, there are some exceptions. Plant families like Brassicaceae (mustard family) and Chenopodiaceae (beet family) typically don’t form mycorrhizal partnerships.

Benefits of Mycorrhizae to Plants

Mycorrhizae offers a suite of benefits to plants, enhancing their overall health and performance. Here’s how these fungal partners enhance plant health and growth:

  • Phosphorus Powerhouse: One of the biggest advantages mycorrhizae offer is their exceptional ability to help plants absorb phosphorus, a crucial nutrient often limited in soil. The extensive network of fungal hyphae acts like an extension of the root system, venturing into unexplored territory rich in potential phosphorus sources. Additionally, AM fungi possess enzymes that can unlock phosphorus bound in forms unavailable for direct plant uptake.
  • Beyond Phosphorus: Mycorrhiza isn’t just phosphorus fanatics; they also aid in the uptake of other essential nutrients like nitrogen, potassium, and zinc. This improved access to a broader range of nutrients fuels healthy plant growth and development.
  • Enhanced Water Absorption: The fine, thread-like hyphae of mycorrhizae act like tiny sponges, increasing the surface area for water absorption from the soil. This is especially beneficial during dry periods when water availability is limited. It helps plants stay hydrated and maintain optimal growth.
  • Improved Drought Tolerance: By enhancing water uptake and nutrient acquisition, mycorrhiza can significantly improve a plant’s ability to withstand drought conditions. This allows plants to thrive even in periods of limited rainfall.
  • Disease Resistance Boost: Mycorrhiza can act as a shield against soilborne pathogens. The fungal mantle can form a physical barrier against harmful microbes, and some mycorrhizae even produce antibiotics that inhibit the growth of these pathogens. This strengthens the plant’s defense system and reduces the risk of disease.
  • Stronger Root Systems: Mycorrhizae stimulate root development, leading to a more robust and extensive root system. This not only improves nutrient and water uptake but also enhances the plant’s ability to anchor itself in the soil, especially beneficial in windy conditions.
  • Increased Yield and Quality: With improved access to nutrients and water, plants experience enhanced growth, leading to potentially higher yields and better quality fruits, vegetables, or flowers.
  • Improved Soil Health: Mycorrhiza play a vital role in maintaining healthy soil ecosystems. They contribute to the breakdown of organic matter, making nutrients more readily available for plants. Additionally, the fungal hyphae help bind soil particles together, improving soil structure and reducing erosion.

In conclusion, mycorrhizae are nature’s invisible helpers, offering a multitude of benefits that promote healthy and resilient plant communities. From unlocking hidden nutrients to boosting stress tolerance, these fungal partners play a vital role in the success of plant life.

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