Today, I’m going to introduce you to a little known but indispensible member of our agricultural team, his name is Myc. Myc has been around for millennia, but he gets walked all over and ignored. The main problem for Myc is that he’s not seen, so he’s not valued. I think if we could see all the hard work he’s doing everyday on our behalf, we’d look out for him a lot better.
Myc is a fungus. His full name is Mycorrhiza, but he’s happy if we just call him ‘Myc’, pronounced Mike. His name is derived from the Greek words mykes for fungus, and rhiza for root, which gives us a bit of a clue as to what he’s up to. His job description is to work in a symbiotic relationship with plant roots for the mutual exchange of nutrients. He works on the principle of “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours”.
You see, Myc is in the dark down there and doesn’t have access to sunlight. Getting his sugars and energy for growth is difficult. So Myc does a great trade in exchanging water plus other essential minerals and trace elements in return for his sugar fix. For the plant, this is the best possible work buddy you could imagine. It means that its root system is effectively extended thousands of kilometres through the dark reaches of the underground ecosystem, extracting moisture and essential nutrients that the plant couldn’t hope to access on its own.
However, this marvellous subterranean bustling city can come to a grinding halt when those upstairs aren’t in on the memo. You know what it’s like when the bosses think they know how things should go and ride roughshod over long established practices? For example, when big machinery rolls over the roof and starts sprinkling dubious things into the drainpipes. Being industrious folk, the underground workforce get busy incorporating this new stuff into useful commodities, but once plant roots get used to this powerful cocktail, they tend to get hooked, then it’s bye, bye Myc.
For Myc, getting cut out of his old deal is serious. He’s basically run out of town, as there’s nowhere else to get his carb-fix. This has serious implications when hard times roll in, like in a drought. Then there’s no kindly old Myc to rely on to keep that deep underground water spigot running, or to keep plants healthy with micronutrients. That’s when the bosses have to keep reaching for the bag or the bottle in increasing amounts. Expensive way to go, when Myc was doing it for free.