We’ve all experienced how inefficient communication becomes, and how limited our access to information is, when we lose connection to the internet. For humans, this is a uniquely twenty-first century problem. Plants and fungi are smarter than we are though, and they have been exchanging information over internets for millions of years. Mycelium – the complex interconnected system of thread like hyphae that make up the main mass of a fungus – account for 1/5th to 1/10th of the total biomass in healthy topsoil. This type of fungi are called Mycorrhizal (“Myco” meaning mushroom and “rrhizal” meaning “root”). This refers to the symbiotic relationship that these fungi have with the plants and trees around them. Because the mycelium extends far beyond a plant’s roots, it is able to carry information from one plant to another, and even transfer moisture and nutrients along its pathways.
This system is so sophisticated, that plants can use these networks to chemically sense when others around them are unhealthy or in need, and can use the mycelium to transfer things to their needy neighbors. Plants are not only able to communicate and exchange with their own species, but others as well, meaning that your tomato can talk to your basil, and also to your oak tree. Your garden may look like a quiet place, where things move slowly, but under the soil, it is in fact as bustling with information and trade as a Wallstreet stock exchange.
This makes mycelium not only beneficial to your garden, but essential. And as if this weren’t enough of a role for it to play, as decomposers, mycelium can also recycle carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorous, and minerals from dead plants, making it bioavailable for all the other organisms that share its environment. Mycelium and mushrooms also provide food for earthworms, and other beneficial creatures in the garden. Because Mycelium is also threatened by garden bad guys, such as nematodes, microbes, and bad bacteria, it has its own immune system for fighting these things off. These are the same things that harm plants, so by protecting itself, Mycelium also protects the plants, acting as a natural garden defense system.
Even if a poisonous variety of mushroom were to pop up in your garden (which would be pretty unlikely), the only way it would cause you harm is if you deliberately ate it. Even handling poisonous mushrooms can’t endanger you. And there is nothing in the presence of their mycelium that would possibly contaminate any of your edible garden crops. You can only be poisoned by a mushroom if you chew it up and swallow it! So if you see any kind of mushrooms popping up in your garden beds after a good rain or watering, leave them there, and count your blessings!