Nature Canada
© Bill McMullen

Fungi Friend Of The Forests

This blog is written by guest blogger Jessica Linnay.

As we transition into fall, Nature Canada’s September photo shows us how beautiful this season truly is! The shift in colours creates vivid landscapes and stunning scenery, reminding us that change isn’t always a bad thing. Change helps us grow as people, in much the same way it helps the forest evolve to thrive throughout the year. It seems particularly fitting that this month’s picture is of a pair of mushrooms: organisms on a never-ending journey of development, that are essential to the life of a healthy forest. 

The Many Kinds of Mushrooms  

There are over 10,000 different kinds of mushroom that grow around the world every year. In Canada alone, there are hundreds. Versatile and varied, mushrooms have been found growing all the way up to the Arctic, and from sea level to mountaintop. Fungi spring up throughout the year, although they’re most abundant in the fall – making this season the perfect time of year to get outside and discover all of the wild mushrooms in our own backyard!

Mushrooms grow in a radical variety of different shapes and sizes and in all sorts of colours, from purple to orange. Some are edible, while others are toxic. Some are used medicinally. There are over 30 species that naturally glow in the dark, and even a mushroom that “bleeds”

Cycles of Change 

All of the thousands of different mushrooms can be classified into one of 4 groups according to how they relate to the environment around them: parasitic, endophytic, mycorrhizal, and saprophytic. Unlike plants, these resilient fungi don’t need the sun to create energy for themselves and because they don’t photosynthesize, they instead depend on these relationships to sustain them. Parasitic mushrooms often quicken the death of the tree or plant they grow on, while endophytic mushrooms infect their host without killing it. The mycorrhizal mushroom creates a mutual bond with another organism, each exchanging nutrients the other needs. The saprophytic mushroom plays an important role in decomposition, helping to break down dead trees and plants in order to create humus, which is crucial for healthy soil.

Each of these roles the mushroom plays contributes to cycles of change and growth that are underlying throughout nature, and especially apparent during the fall season. This rich and varied family of fungi is an integral part of our environment, and of the health of the changing forests we enjoy so much this time of year. 

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