September is National Mushroom Month. Time to celebrate this extraordinary class of organisms. They are so much more than the things you put on salads or see springing up in your lawn. Mushrooms are the reproductive part of fungi that we can often see. Sadly, fungi don’t get the respect they deserve, since most of their work is done beneath the ground or on dead matter.
Fungi are so plentiful and basic to life – there may be more than 5 million separate species of fungi. One of the largest single organisms on the planet is a fungus: the four-square mile Armillaria ostoya fungus, that lives in the soil of Oregon’s Blue Mountains and thought to be more than 8,000 years old.
Without fungi we wouldn’t have antibiotics, cheeses, wine and beer, bread, and most importantly, we’d have a whole lot of waste everywhere if they weren’t busy breaking things down. They play a key role as decomposers of organic matter in natural and agricultural ecosystems and control an essential process for maintaining soil fertility.
Here are some things you can do to protect the fungi in your yard:
- Avoid over-tilling soil – fungal networks are generally found down to approximately nine inches deep
- Avoid fertilizer where possible – fertilizer diminishes fungal diversity
- Use native plants – they support a wider diversity of fungi