Some people say that money makes the world go round. Others say it’s love. We think it’s fungi (love). Fungi are everywhere, even when you don’t notice them. They’re critical organisms that affect plants and animals all over the world.
Fungi are more than just the mushrooms you see in the grocery store or even the ones that pop up in your yard after a rainy day. They’re a diverse group of organisms that aren’t part of either the animal or plant kingdom—they’re their own special breed of awesome.
Fungi range from single-celled organisms to complex multicellular beings. They can be microscopic (hence, being where you don’t even notice them) to large mile-long growths underneath the ground. In fact, the largest living organism in the world isn’t a Giant Sequoia or a blue whale… it’s a complex system of fungi stretching miles underneath the earth!
Fungi are integral in the “communication” of plants to each other, as well as their water and nutrient absorption. These underground networks spread vitamins and minerals through their “wood wide web” to other plants that might not be able to obtain enough, for whatever reason. They also work to “warn” other flora about potential dangers, such as predatory bugs, so that the plants can put up defense mechanisms—the fungi are used as a type of telephone line among populations of trees!
Close to 100,000 species of fungi have been identified to date, but scientists believe that there are many, many more yet to be discovered. Some even predict that there are millions out there!
Of course, there are plenty of poisonous fungi out there (although they have their importance, too). Some of these include thrush, mildew, canker, and ringworm—none of which are your friend. However, the majority of fungi provide crucial services to ecosystems that benefit humans and the rest of the living world.
Benefits of Fungi
The myriad fungi provide myriad benefits to us, other animals, and plants alike. They keep the soil diverse, which helps keep our earth strong against struggles such as overpopulation and global warming. Fungi also help with vegetation and nutrient cycling. Let’s look at some of these more closely.
Plants need nutrients from the soil, but those nutrients aren’t always able to consume in the form they present. Fungi, then, help to transform nutrients so that they’re bioavailable for the flora in their area. Decomposers, a special type of fungi, break down dead plants and animals to cycle nutrients and deposit them back into the soil.
This process also propels nitrogen fixation as well as mobilizes phosphorus, which are both requirements for thriving plant populations.
Climate Regulations and Carbon Cycling
Carbon is also everywhere. Every living thing has elements of carbon. Fungi add to the world’s carbon stock—their role in the carbon cycle is a big one. Decomposers are at work here, too, cycling the carbon from dead plants and animals back into the soil.
Fungi produce their energy from photosynthetic carbon. This means that they get their carbon from plant roots. In conjunction with plants, they tackle soil carbon sequestration, which is sort of like a carbon reservoir. They take it from the atmosphere and store it in the soil until other plants need it—sometimes for centuries! Talk about hard work. This soil retention improves the nutrient quality of the soil and also helps offset the pollution from our human carbon footprint. Next time you see a fungus, say thanks.
More Fungi Love – Nutritional and Health Benefits
Of course, mushrooms are a part of many cultures’ diets. They’re rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals, such as:
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
Some mushrooms are even more nutritious than many vegetables! Especially for vegetarians and vegans, or people who don’t have easy or affordable access to meat, mushrooms are a key component to getting the protein and minerals necessary for a healthy intake.
They’re also easy on the soil because they can be grown using agricultural waste. Mushrooms don’t need fertile soil or pull nutrients from other crops. Fungi is a wonderful solution to the food and nutritional needs of today’s growing population.
Not only are they healthy, but they’re also healing! And we’re not talking about “magic mushrooms”—that’s a whole other topic. Many species of mushrooms help boost the immune system and help prevent diseases, such as the antiviral shiitake mushroom which also reduces cholesterol. Other types of fungi have high anti-oxidant properties and are known to reduce the development of AIDS, cancer-causing tumors, and diabetes.
How Fungi (Love) Can Help Your Homestead
Fungi are beneficial to the farmer and homesteader, too! Not only do they provide all the aforementioned services, but these benefits trickle down to your singular space, as well. They help keep your soil fertile and healthy for your other crops, without depleting the ground of valuable nutrients. This allows your soil to thrive while providing an edible harvest for your family or for your business.
Fungi also help decompose dead plant matter from whatever is growing on your land. You probably have a good number of trees on your property, and deadwood contains lignin. Lignin is only able to be broken down by fungi, which is then made available to other decomposers. When all this happens, your soil structure is strengthened and its water-holding capacity is improved. All that spells benefits for your plants, which spells benefits for you.
Without fungi, not only would there be no soil for your plants to grow in, but there wouldn’t be nutrients for them to use. Fungi are crucial, and the more we know about them, the more we can appreciate their role in our lives.
If your kids are interested in learning about the power and benefits of mushrooms, you’re in luck! Stoney Creek Farm is offering a special kids’ education course—Mycology: The Magic of Mushrooms. Your kids don’t get to have all the fun though! Each registered child is only $25 and parents and grandparents get to attend for free! Come join us for an afternoon of mind-blowing mushrooms and fantastic, fun-filled fungi.