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What is ectomycorrhizal fungi?

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Quick Answer

Ectomycorrhizal fungi refers to group of fungi that form symbiotic relationships with plants. The fungus forms a sheath around the plant's root tip before penetrating the plant's root structure with hyphae. The sheath allows the fungus to extract organic nutrients from the plant. In exchange, ectomycorrhizal fungus provides the plant protection from predators, fights off soil parasites and increases a plant's ability to draw water and minerals from the soil.

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Full Answer

The main parts of an ectomycorrhizal fungus are the mantle, Hartig net, extraradical hyphae and extramatrical mycelia. The extra radical hyphae branch outward from the mantle and into the soil to increase surface area. The extramatrical mycelia are responsible for transporting nutrients and water to the host.

Most ectomycorrhizal fungi are members of the Basidiomycota and Ascomycota phyla. They tend to form relationships with woody plants, such as birch, willow, pine and beech trees. The ectomycorrhizal fungus does not penetrate the host's cell walls. The hyphae remain in an intercellular interface that forms a relationship with the epidermal and cortical cells of the roots.

Many ectomycorrhizal fungi have edible fruiting bodies. The truffle is a delicacy in many cultures. However other members of this group, such as death caps and destroying angels, are toxic to many animals.

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