gardening

Plants Can Benefit From Probiotics, Just Like Us by Dan Nosowitz on July 20, 2015

If you’ve seen a yogurt commercial or read a wellness blog in the past few years, you may have noticed that probiotics—helpful bacteria—are breaking through to the mainstream.

Probiotics have been advertised as a treatment for everything from allergies to digestive issues to, amazingly, social anxiety. New research indicates that we might not be the only ones to benefit from probiotics, though: a study from the University of Washington suggests that plants might grow bigger and stronger with a dose of bacteria as well.

Friendly bacteria in humans, mostly located in the gastrointestinal system, can have all kinds of effects, breaking down foods and chemicals and turning them into nutrients and compounds that can be more easily or efficiently absorbed by the body. In plants, they work a little bit differently, and are not very well understood.

Past research shows that all plants have what are called endophytes, basically the plant version of probiotics. Endophytes can be bacteria or fungi, and by definition are, at the very least, harmless. (Harmful bacteria or fungi would be classified as some sort of parasite.) But we know hardly anything about how the relationship between the endophyte and the plant itself works.

Older research has focused on endophytes found in little nodules attached to the roots of plants. It’s known that the endophytes in these nodules sometimes serve a similar purpose for plants that probiotics do for us: the endophytes turn a key element for growth, in this case nitrogen, into a form more easily absorbed by the plant. Nobody’s quite sure how they get there (guesses include an early presence in the seed and movement through the environment), and their behavior is mostly a mystery.

The new research takes a huge step forward by finding endophytes elsewhere in the plant body. Working with poplar and willow trees at first, the team, led by Sharon Doty of the University of Washington, found endophytes in leaves, stems and the roots themselves, not just in the nodules attached to the roots.

In a paper published by the American Society of Agronomy, Doty and her team not only isolated these endophytes, but extracted them and transferred them to an entirely different plant species: rice. This is where things get interesting, and possibly groundbreaking, in terms of agriculture, because the rice given a booster shot of endophytes grew fuller and stronger root systems, even though the amount of nitrogen in their greenhouse home soil hadn’t changed.

This is a huge leap forward, because it allows plants to make better use of limited nitrogen in their environment. Nitrogen is the great problem in plant nutrition; nitrogen-based fertilizers can have a really nasty effect on the environment, and by giving the plant a sort of life hack to make the most of the nitrogen it has, we could potentially decrease the amount of nitrogen fertilizer we have to use.

Who knew? Looks like plants aren’t so different from us, after all.

Image via Flickr user Noelle

Plants Communicate Using An Internet Of Fungus

 

Hidden beneath the surface and entangled in the roots of Earth’s astonishing and diverse plant life, there exists a biological superhighway linking together the members of the plant kingdom in what researchers call the “wood wide web”. This organic network operates much like our internet, allowing plants to communicate, bestow nutrition, or even harm one another.

The network is comprised of thin threads of fungus known as mycelium that grow outwards underground up to a few meters from its partnering plant, meaning that all of the plant life within a region is likely tapped into the network and connected to one another. The partnership of the roots of plants and the fungi is known as mycorrhiza and is beneficial for both parties involved; plants provide carbohydrates to the fungi and in exchange, the fungi aids in gathering water and providing nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen to its partnering plant.

This fungal network has been found to allow plants to aid one another in growth and flourishing. University of British Columbia graduate Suzanne Simard was the first to show that trees such as the Douglas fir and Paper birch were capable of transferring carbon to smaller trees that may not be receiving enough sunlight, allowing seedlings to grow in the shade of other trees. Simard believes that many of the world’s seedlings would not be able to survive if it weren’t for the lifeline this network provides.

A study conducted by Ren Sen Zeng of the South China Agricultural University found that this interconnectivity also allows for plants to warn one another of potential harm. In the study, the team grew potted pairs of tomato plants where some of the pairs were allowed to form mycorrhizae. When the fungal networks had formed, one plant of each pair was sprayed with Alternaria solani, a fungus that causes early blight disease in plant life. Air-tight plastic bags were used to assure there was no above ground interaction. After 65 hours, the team tried to infect the second plant of each pair and found that those with mycelia bonds were far less likely to contract the blight and had much lower levels of damage if they did contract it than those with no mycelia.

A similar study was done by University of Aberdeen graduate David Johnson and a team of colleagues that showed Broad Beans also utilized the fungal network to eavesdrop on one another for impending danger. As hungry aphids fed on the leaves of one of the Broad Bean plants, the plants connect via mycelia began to excrete their anti-aphid chemical defenses, while those that were not connected had no reaction.

"Some form of signalling was going on between these plants about herbivory by aphids, and those signals were being transported through mycorrhizal mycelial networks."
-David Johnson

Like our internet, this fungal connectivity is also susceptible cyber crime, terrorism, and even warfare. Some plants, such as the Phantom Orchid, do not have the chlorophyll necessary for photosynthesis and must leech the necessary nutrients for survival from surrounding plants. Other plants, such as Golden Marigolds and American Black Walnut Trees have been found to release toxins into the network to hinder the growth of surrounding plants in the fight for water and light.

Some research suggests that animals such as insects and worms may be able to detect subtle exchanges of nutrients through the network, allowing them to more easily find savory roots to feed on; however, this has never been conclusively demonstrated in experimentation.

"These fungal networks make communication between plants, including those of different species, faster, and more effective. We don't think about it because we can usually only see what is above ground. But most of the plants you can see are connected below ground, not directly through their roots but via their mycelial connections."
-Kathryn Morris

The more we learn about this phenomenon, the more our understanding of the plant life of our planet will continue to change. Perhaps one day, we may be able to peacefully map out these complex fungal networks to appreciate them in their entirety.

Sources
Fleming, Nic. "Plants Talk to Each Other Using an Internet of Fungus." BBC Earth. N.p., 11 Nov. 2014. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.

Harley, J. L., and J. S. Waid. "A Method of Studying Active Mycelia on Living Roots and Other Surfaces in the Soil." Sciencedirect. Department of Botany, University of Oxford, England, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.

Photo Sources
http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20141111-plants-have-a-hidden-internet

http://timewheel.net/Tome-Plants-Communicate-Using-An-Internet-Of-Fungus

BBC - Earth - Plants talk to each other using an internet of fungus

It's an information superhighway that speeds up interactions between a large, diverse population of individuals. It allows individuals who may be widely separated to communicate and help each other out. But it also allows them to commit new forms of crime.
No, we're not talking about the internet, we're talking about fungi. While mushrooms might be the most familiar part of a fungus, most of their bodies are made up of a mass of thin threads, known as a mycelium. We now know that these threads act as a kind of underground internet, linking the roots of different plants. That tree in your garden is probably hooked up to a bush several metres away, thanks to mycelia.
The more we learn about these underground networks, the more our ideas about plants have to change. They aren't just sitting there quietly growing. By linking to the fungal network they can help out their neighbours by sharing nutrients and information – or sabotage unwelcome plants by spreading toxic chemicals through the network. This "wood wide web", it turns out, even has its own version of cybercrime. Read more.......

 

If you have a garden, a wooded lot, a compost pile, or a sunny area where you can't plant vegetables, you can grow King Stropharia.

Fungi Garden Workshops  

http://www.grassrootsherbalism.com/fungigardens-workshop/

This mushroom can perennialize and take resident in your garden soil, coming back year after year if it can find a source of hardwood chips to feed on. King Stropharia tastes earthy, like asparagus cooked in a splash of wine, meaty and delicious. Both the cap and the stem are edible, so don’t trim and toss the stem like other mushrooms! It is called King Stropharia because the mushrooms can get very large, but they are best to eat when young and firm, when the caps are tight to prevent bug infestation.

KING STROPHARIA IS GREAT FOR YOUR GARDEN
King Stropharia (Stropharia rugoso-annulata), also called the “Garden Giant” or “Wine Cap” mushroom, is very good at cleaning soil and water as well. Our chicken house has King Stropharia mycelium threaded through the soil all around it, eating woodchips and straw bedding, forming a mycoremediation barrier for reducing and eliminating coliform bacteria.

Our gardens also have King Stropharia colonizing and enhancing the soil, building and binding the soil together for the plants, unlocking minerals for them, and attracting earthworms that will also contribute their valuable castings to the area.

DON'T HAVE A GARDEN OUR AN OUTDOOR SPACE?
If you don't have a garden, and would like to grow these in your house, just buy one of the 5 lb sawdust spawn bags, open it up upon receipt, and top it with some moist potting soil, about 1 inch deep, close the bag back up with a clothes pin, or some staples, so the moisture is preserved, mist often and then wait. As soon as you see buttons emerging from the soil, mist them to keep moist, so they don’t dry out and shrivel up. One of the easiest mushrooms to grow indoors!

http://www.mushroommountain.com/grow_your_own/kingstropharia.asp