What are mycorrhizal fungi?
Mycorrhizas are beneficial fungi growing in association with plant roots, and exist by taking sugars from plants ‘in exchange’ for moisture and nutrients gathered from the soil by the fungal strands. The mycorrhizas greatly increase the absorptive area of a plant, acting as extensions to the root system.
Phosphorus is often in very short supply in natural soils. When phosphorus is present in insoluble forms it would require a vast root system for a plant to meet its phosphorus requirements unaided. It is therefore thought that mycorrhizas are crucial in gathering this element in uncultivated soils. Phosphorus-rich fertilisers are widely used in cultivated ground and not only reduce the need for this activity but are thought to actually suppress the mycorrhizas. For this reason it is best not to use phosphorous rich fertilisers in conjunction with mycorrhizal fungi.
Neither fungi nor plants could survive in many uncultivated situations without this mutually beneficial arrangement.
Mycorrhizas also seem to confer protection against root diseases.