Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dead Man's Foot

The fungus of the moment is Pisolithus tinctorius, the dead man's foot (or also the "dog turd fungus". It is so named for the shape of the fruiting body, which erupts out of the earth like the start of a zombie invasion.
Actually, this fungus is one of the "good guys", in that it is ectomycorrhizal. Okay, so decaying otherwise recalcitrant matter is not bad, and being a pathogen is bad if you're a pathogen that people want to use is bad from the perspective of the people who are in competition with the pathogen, but mycorrhizal species are considered "good" by most people. Mycorrhizas (alt. mycorrhizae) are considered mutualistic symbioses between fungi and plant roots. Fungi, being fundamentally microorganisms, can explore the soil much better than plant roots, because of their high surface-volume ratio. Thus they can get at nutrients like phosphorus and other elements that plants need from soil better than the plants themselves. In return for their superior soil scavenging services, the fungi get paid in carbon, sugar, photosynthate, which the plants make from carbon dioxide in the air and send down to their roots.
Spores of dead man's foot are commonly sown in with pine seedlings to help them to get established.

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