How can mushrooms help restore the forest at SHADOW Lake Nature Preserve?  
The Pacific Northwest is a great place to enjoy beautiful and varied fruiting bodies of fungi, or mushrooms, scattered about the mossy forest floor. What many people don’t know is that below the surface of the fruiting body buried in the soil, there is an extensive underground network of root-like structures called mycorrhizae. This network of fungal mycorrhizae functions like plant roots allowing the mushroom to obtain nutrients from the soil and play an important role in the forest ecosystem.  

One of the amazing things that fungal mycorrhizal networks do is connect plants to one another and even act as channels carrying essential nutrients between the roots of plants. For example, nutrient-rich trees can use the mycorrhizal network to send resources to trees of the same species that are lacking in nutrients. The older the tree, the more extensive of a mycorrhizal network it could have. This means that if a seedling grows where it can easily tap into a larger tree’s mycorrhizal network, it may have higher changes of survival.  

This relationship between mushrooms and trees is ecologically significant in areas like SHADOW’s Upland Restoration Project. As the newly planted trees in the restoration area grow throughout the seasons, they use existing mycorrhizal networks from the older standing trees in the Nature Preserve to gain access to nutrients. The more access young trees have to a larger trees network, the faster a healthier forest canopy will grow. This connection can be vital to restoration success. 

The connection between mushrooms and trees holds true for many native plants. The kingdom of fungi, with its high diversity and an estimated 1.5 million species, forms important ecosystem relationships that greatly benefit habitat restoration. The next time you’re planting trees at home, consider the connections the young tree will form underground. You may decide to plant your new tree near an older tree of the same species nearby!