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Is the Relationship Between Trees and Mushrooms Symbiotic?

From a young age, we’re taught to be wary of new growths on our food, walls, drinks, and more. If a growth like mold arrives, we recognize it as bad news. Whichever surface the growth has formed on is assumed to be negatively impacted, and oftentimes, it needs to be discarded. That’s why you might feel nervous when you find one or more mushrooms sprouting on your trees, but don’t panic just yet.

Mushrooms and trees largely benefit from each other’s existence. The fact that a mushroom has sprouted on your tree is often a sign of a healthy tree. There are a few mushrooms that negatively affect your trees, so you’ll want to be informed and make sure you’re conscious of whether you’ll need to take action. That’s why we’ve decided to share that information with you here.

Trees and mushrooms share two different types of mutualism: symbiotic mutualism and non-symbiotic. Symbiotic mutualism means that at least one of the organisms needs the other to survive, while non-symbiotic means that while the two surfaces (in this case, mushrooms and trees) might not be close in proximity, they benefit from one another when they’re together.

In this post, we’re going to share information about the symbiotic relationship between mushrooms and trees. We’ll include information about the benefits of their relationship and which mushrooms are the ones that are actually bad for your tree.

How It Works

A mushroom is a type of fungus. When fungus is connected to a tree, it’s often referred to as a root fungus (or mycorrhizae). A root fungus often sprouts large reproductive bodies like mushrooms along the base of your tree. For the symbiotic mushrooms we’ll be talking about in this article, you can expect to find them growing on trees like beeches, ironwood, eucalyptus, firs, pines, alders, and oaks.

The fungus usually starts at a tree’s root tips. While there, it picks up minerals that try seeping through the soil instead of into the tree. The fungus actually catches these necessary minerals and transfers them to the tree instead. This is only one of the ways in which mushrooms benefit trees, but we’ll get to all that good stuff in the next section. For now, let’s finish up with exactly how the mushrooms multiply and impact the tree.

While they originally collect at the root tips, mushrooms often expand to other areas thanks to their spores. That means one mushroom could become multiple mushrooms over time. They’re often a sign of a healthy working symbiotic relationship with a tree because fungi don’t produce these bodies unless everything is going well. So finding a mushroom on your tree could be a very good sign, and it should probably not be removed.

Benefits of the Symbiotic Relationship of Mushrooms and Trees

A symbiotic relationship is one that’s beneficial to both parties. Describing the relationship between mushrooms and trees as symbiotic is particularly accurate, considering that both organisms rely on each other for necessary nutrients. They work together to stay healthy and alive, so we should allow them to work their magic.

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There are multiple ways in which they help each other, but perhaps the largest is that fungus provides nutrients to the tree while the tree provides carbohydrates to the fungus and a place for the mushrooms to live. Some of these nutrients include nitrogen and phosphates, which are of vital importance for tree nutrition. But mushrooms also protect the roots of a tree from parasites, therefore protecting the tree against harmful disease. They produce plant hormones and transfer necessary carbohydrates, proving how helpful mushrooms really are for a tree’s health—no matter how small they are compared to the tree.

Meanwhile, trees offer up excess sugars to the fungus. They also share protein where the fungus and tree roots are connected. Since mushrooms need protein to thrive, this relationship is good for both species. When root fungus is found on the tree’s root system, you can often expect trees to thrive by not only growing more quickly but healthier overall.

This symbiotic relationship between trees and mushrooms isn’t only terrifically helpful for the growth of both organisms, but it could actually benefit and protect the environment too. Trees benefit the environment immensely, helping transfer healthy oxygen into the air, so the healthier the tree is, thanks to mushrooms, the better the climate can be.

When Mushrooms and Trees Harm One Another

By this point, you should know that if you find mushrooms growing on your trees, it’s probably not time to panic. Instead, it’s most likely a sign that things are going very well with your tree and that nature is taking its course to create long-sustaining health.

However, there are some mushrooms that could potentially harm your tree. The grayish-white split gill mushroom, the artist’s conk, and beefsteak fungus are just a few examples of types of fungus that could cause white or brown rot, which could be detrimental to your tree.

If you find mushrooms on your tree, it might be beneficial to take a picture of it and get researching to figure out what kind it is. Some people take action and start cutting the mushrooms off the tree immediately, but we wouldn’t recommend that. The mushrooms could be helping your tree, and by cutting them off, you could actually be removing helpful nutrients from your tree, and hurting it more in the process.

The best way to make sure that you’re doing the best you can for the health of your tree is to consult with an arborist. At Mr. Tree Services, we’ve been helping diagnose the health of trees and recognize which aspects are good for them for over 30 years. Whether you’re looking for more information on how to ensure the health of your yard or you want help with planting new trees around your Pacific Northwest home, we have you covered at Mr. Tree.