Ectomycorrhizal fungi form compact hyphae on the roots of the plants and generally on the outer surface. However, they do not penetrate the root cells. But, the strands of the hyphae penetrate the surface of the roots and thereby grow between the cortical root cells and extend outside to the surface of the soil from the mantle. It is most common in pine and other conifers like beech, birch and also oak families. It is also common in woody plants. With limited host range, ectomycorrhiza provides benefits for woody ornaments and forestry seedlings.
Structural characteristics of ectomycorrhiza:
Ectomycorrhizal fungi come with three structural characteristics.
- Hyphae extend from the roots and through the soil that surrounds the roots.
- The surface of the root is covered with hyphal mat only to varying degrees.
- A net of hyphae exists between the epidermal cells of the roots known as Hartig net.
Effect of ectomycorrhizal fungi on plants:
Ectomycorrhizal fungi affect plant growth to a great extent. It can even change the form of growth of plant roots by restricting extension of roots and promotes branching of the roots. It can also help roots in the uptake of phosphorus and also in the uptake of nitrogen to some extent. Ectomycorrhizal fungi help plants by decreasing its susceptibility to drought conditions and other diseases. The hyphal mat that surrounds the root surface provides all-round protection to the roots by restricting the entry of pathogenic fungi of soil. The network of hyphae surrounding the roots also helps in uptake of water from the soil. Thus, ectomycorrhizal fungi affect the growth of plants by making them more robust and also improve their survival chances.
- Agriculture:Ectomycorrhizal fungi do not play any evident role in horticultural and agricultural systems. Agriculture indirectly affects the nearby ectomycorrhizal habitats and species.
- Restoration: Ectomycorrhiza provides a number of benefits to the host plants like enhanced growth, nutrient uptake and establishment of the plants in disturbed habitats. Thus, it is evident that ectomycorrhiza could be used effectively in various restoration projects which are aimed at re-establishing various species of native plants in the ecosystem which were disrupted due to variety of issues. It also helps in providing protection to the seedlings in case of harsh circumstances like heavy metal pollution or increase in the level of salinity in soil. It also helps in improving the quality of soil. Ectomycorrhiza does this by preventing erosion and by binding the soil particles altogether for yielding more stability and thus improves soil aggregation. It plays a very important role in restoring habitats.
- Forestry: In the industry of commercial forestry, ectomycorrhizal partner is required for transplanting the trees to new habitats. This is most important in case of trees that are being planted in areas which are far from their original habitat. It can be seen in plants like pine and eucalyptus. After being added to the soil, the process of mutualism begins just like seedlings are grown in plantations and nurseries.