by Angela Lovell.

I know that we fungi are easy to ignore as you go about your daily lives, while we are busy doing great work under the ground you walk on. But it’s time we were given our due, so I am going to give you a wee glimpse into my life as a soil fungus.

Sugar me baby!

Hey, plant, my old friend, how about you give me some sugar and I’ll give you a special boost? No, no, I’m not dealing, it’s a reciprocal arrangement. Some even call it symbiotic. We’ve been doing it for generations – ever since plants emigrated from the oceans to sunnier climes on land.  I just attach myself to your roots, or I can sort of wedge myself into your cells too – think of a bicycle inner tube – and then I become a nozzle to siphon out the sweet stuff and pump the food you need back in. No, no, it doesn’t hurt at all, trust me!

Geez, I’m tired.

Phew, it takes a lot of energy to ferry these nutrients back and forth between plants, and I’m not just doing it for one. My fungi and I connect with hundreds, sometimes thousands of plants, of all species, shapes and sizes, and they get more and more demanding the bigger they get.

It’s all gimme, gimme, gimme. ‘I fancy a phosphorus fizz; Know where a plant can get a nitrogen fix? Oooh, I could so go for a magnesium smoothie today.’

There we are, trundling these nutrients back and forth through our spindly little hyphae arms; it’s exhausting. But do we stop? No, because that’s our job, and it’s why our plants love us, and to show how grateful they are, they pump out lots of sugar to us through their hairy old roots. It’s just about the perfect relationship!

We invented the World Wide Web.

You humans think you’re so clever with all your tweeting and insta-this and that. Well, have I got news for you; we fungi invented the World Wide Web when you guys still had hairy bodies, wielded clubs and lived in caves. (Yeah, I know some of you still do). But we were the first cyber-heroes of the biological world – we created the common mycorrhizal network. It’s a totally organic, fishnet-like web called a mycelium, that can stretch thousands of miles and connects all us mycorrhizae together. Beat that Google!

Oh, man, don’t feed us that shit.

You know, I really don’t need that artificial fertilizer. If you just leave us to our own devices, we can make sure the plants get phosphorus and other food they need to grow. But, we need our friends to help us, like the wormy ‘ol bacteria (don’t tell them I called them that) who can fix nitrogen like there’s no tomorrow, and even viruses. Yeah, they get a bit of a bum rap, and are more mysterious than us gregarious old fungi, but they can help keep our plants and soils healthy, so let’s not treat them all like the plague.

Our diet isn’t what it used to be.

It’s a bit boring being a fungus these days because the menu options aren’t what they used to be. We used to have a much wider variety of plants growing everywhere, and that balanced diet helped to keep us, and all our microbe pals down, here healthy and working hard.

Sad to say, it’s getting harder these days to be a functioning, productive member of the fungi community, and a lot of that’s down to you humans. You seem to like monocultures a lot. Extremely partial you are to acres of nice, uniform crops that respond to your timelines of when they can grow, flower and give up their grain.

I’ve noticed a lot of trees, shrubs, grasslands and other natural areas have been disappearing too of late, and that just means it’s harder for us to find the right balance of foods we need to maintain our healthy lifestyles. Would you just maybe park the bulldozer and watch the flowers grow for a while?

Look, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your war on weeds seems a bit senseless, because weeds are definitely smarter than the average human, and they just figure out a way around your attacks. Them oats may be a bit wild, but man, but they know how to survive a chemical hangover, and I have kochia pals that wet themselves laughing when they see a sprayer.

Woah, are you trying to kill us?

One thing I won’t let you humans off the hook for though, and that’s these damn fungicides you keep throwing at us. Sure, they kill the pathogens that cause diseases on your crops, but guess what else they kill? OK, you can do it – just think about the name for a minute…. right, they kill FUNGI! Dead, kaput, no coming back.

That means no more sugar for fungus, and no more nutrient highballs for our plant friends, including your crops! And not just today, but for years to come, because we can’t rebuild our communities in one season, that takes a long time.

We are a democracy.

Another little-known fact about us microbial species is that we were the first to create a truly democratic society. We get to vote and make decisions for the common good of our soil community, plants, and animals – including you humans – that feed on them.

We do it through a sophisticated political system we call quorum sensing. You all know what a quorum is right? You (sometimes) need a certain number of humans sitting around a table to make a decision. Well, same for us; once we have a certain number of microbes in a community, we start to collectively make decisions about all kinds of important things. What things? Well, maybe we should turn this plant gene on so it can make it through the drought we’re having. Or maybe we should turn this plant gene off because it needs to conserve its energy to fight a pesky insect invasion. Could be a lesson or two here for some of you.

Now you’re speaking my language.

One question I am always asked – besides how do you poop, and I’ll save that one for another day – is how do fungi communicate with each other and your microbe pals. Well, we’re all born multilingual; no college degrees for us. We simply have the ability to understand each other’s languages, and believe me there are a lot of them, and none of them have any formal grammatical structure, so make no mistake it’s a nightmare!

Getting damn hot in here.

One thing I want to get off my chest while I am on the subject of defoliation and soil degradation…I am getting bloody hot sitting here under the burning sun all day long, and there’s just no way that my pals and I can do our usual bang-up job of retaining water, and making it available in the soil for your crops if you keep leaving the surface bald up there. We like some hair on our ground; nice green hair of living plants is preferable, but some dingy straw left over from the crop will do. Just letting you know.

Are we even going to talk about our climate genius?

Far be it from me to boast, but you do know that we fungi hold the key to turning the climate disaster around and saving you humans from frying in your own greenhouse gases?

See, we can round up and imprison those varmint carbon dioxide gas emissions that keep escaping from the crazy things humans do to prop up their unsustainable lifestyles. We incarcerate those suckers in jails made out of organic matter and lock ‘em up for a long time in the deepest, darkest recesses of our soils.

So, although I may have a bit too much of a sweet tooth, and am not be the prettiest creature in the universe, and I probably complain a bit more than is decent for a dignified fungus, my pals and I down here in this under-appreciated, microbial community are doing great things for the soil, and the planet, and you silly humans. So, why don’t you stop reducing the biodiversity up there and  let us get on with it?

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash


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