The mere mention of fungi often evokes a negative response in people. However, fungi are natural decomposers that are a very important part of the food web. Fungi are everywhere (about a million fungi in one ounce of rich topsoil, Soils Alive: Cycling Back to Nature, National 4-H Council) and since fungi cannot change sunlight into food such as a tree, they must rely on other organisms for food. With the help of bacteria, they help break down dead or living wood and releases essential elements back into the soil.
There are over 100,000 different types of fungi. Sometimes fungi can be harmful as they attack a tree where dead wood is exposed, but as long as the tree has some living wood, it will be able to continue to supply water and nutrients to the tree and leaves. It is vitally important that we protect our trees from damage so they do not fall victim to fungi and insects. Although fungi are crucial to the decomposition of dead trees, we do not want them harming those that are still living.
It is believed that some fungi have symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationships with the roots of several types of trees. Naturally occurring fungi attach to certain plant roots and extend their thread-like bodies (called hyphae) into the soil. The hyphae help the tree roots absorb even more nutrients and water than they could on their own and, in turn, the tree roots provide nourishment to the fungi in the form of sugars that are sent to the roots by the leaves.
It is important to be aware of the difference between helpful and harmful fungi.
Protect your trees from damage and help maintain their health so that the only fungi you attract are those that can be beneficial to your trees.
To provide students with the opportunity to test the growth of various types of plants using a fungus product called an inoculum.
Use the Treeture, Fun Gus, as a guide, icon or symbol to help animate and enhance your fungi lesson. Fun Gus is a Mushroominator who can be a killer if he hangs out on healthy trees. However, it is important to learn the difference between friendly mushrooms and Musroominators.
FirstFruits, an organic products company, has created a safe product made from "mycorrhizal" fungus spores. They believe that this "inoculum" will dramatically increase plant growth, health, and drought resistance for many plants when mixed in with the soil. You be the judge.
Use the inoculum on ONE of each tree species (follow the directions on the package for amounts). Clearly label your seedlings so you can chart the growth of each species with and without the inoculum. Follow the growth of your seedlings each week for at least 3 months. Use your science journals to make predictions and write up your conclusions after each week of growth. This might be an excellent opportunity to tie in a little math and graph the growth rates of your seedlings.
*The Treeture characters, as learning tools, can be adapted to any grade level. For example, students in grades K-1 could utilize coloring pages, finger puppets, and collages. Stories, poems, creation of new Treeture characters, newsletters, and plays could be fun and used as mentoring projects by 5th and 6th graders for younger students. Another entertaining and educational activity is to hold a Treeture Fair. This project has been successfully implemented in several schools. Each Treeture character can be enlarged and placed on an easel on a table with an appropriate experiment or example of its tree role.Extension:
There are approximately one million fungi in one ounce of rich topsoil. Soils Alive: Cycling Back to Nature, National 4-H Council