There are unseen forces working their magic in your garden! Have you ever printed a photograph when your ink cartridge is out of yellow ink? Have you ever had pumpkin pie without spices, or unsalted, unseasoned soup?
These examples are analogous to the massive void left when a very small component is missing. In soil, that very small component necessary to "kick it up a notch" is mycorrhizal fungi. Big word, hard to say, and filled with all the magic of the most powerful invocations. Let's slowly chant it: my... koh... rye... zahl... Feel the stirrings beneath your feet as you have named the magical component in the soil.
There are many types of mycorrhizal fungi, and each may form a different relationship with a plant, and different types of mycorrhizal fungi may colonize a single plant. To use another analogy, they form a "neural network" between the soil and plants, and between a single plant and its neighbors. Like the Web of Wyrd or the lines of a fractal, they spread out through the soil making connections somewhat similar to the neural connections in the brain, a myco-net perhaps.
Like most true magic, all of this goes relatively unseen, working powerful influences underground or veiled in mulch and leaves. But every once in a while, you catch a glimpse of mycorrhizal fungi's fruiting body, usually a mushroom. One of these fruiting bodies is familiar to folklorists and Witches, the Amanita mushroom, with its red cap and white spots illustrated in many of our favorite fairy tales. Perhaps fungi are the fairy-like unseen magical force conveyed in these tales. You might see a "puff ball", another fruiting body of mycorrhizal fungi. These round balls mature to a "husk" like outer shell filled with powder, its spores.
Mycorrhiza, the root word of mycorrhizal without the L, comes from two greek words; mykós meaning "fungus" and ριζα, riza, meaning "roots". Mycorrhiza is a symbiotic association between a fungus and plant roots. Symbiotic means working together, and although mycorrhiza research is still in its toddler stage, the results of latest research are astounding.
Imagine the roots of your plant covered with a fuzzy network of thread-like hyphae (mycelium). Instead of the smooth surface of a root you can see that there is now a massive amount of surface area. The plant provides the fungi with sugar (okay, for the scientist I'm referring to carbohydrates like sucrose and glucose) and the fungi provide that extra surface area to absorb water and soil nutrients. But that's not all, nor is it even the beginning. Some mycorrhizal fungi release acids that break down rocks and minerals to make them available to plants. So the fungi get sugar and the plant gets extra minerals like phosphorous that it might not have been able to get on its own, especially in soil with a basic pH. The extra surface area provided by the fungi allows for greater exploration of the soil and access to deeper water and nutrients.
But wait, there's even more! Mycorrhizal colonies connect plants together, like a massive internet for Mother Earth. The fungi can transport water and soil nutrients to other plants in the mycorrhizal networks. They may even help plants communicate among themselves better, allowing them to know when their neighbor is being attacked by an insect, and releasing repellents as a group to combat the attack. Some plants release attractants for predatory insects that will come and prey on the insect attacking the plant. When these plants are connected to the Earth's Internet (mycorrhizal network), they can release chemical attractants or repellents as a group for greater battle strength. They may also communicate to aid in succession of ecosystems, such as paper birch trees signalling douglas fir trees through the myco-net that it is safe to come out and play. Still other fungi may attract insects or animals to either kill them or utilize their "manures" to increase the nitrogen in the soil for their plant partners.*
Plants connected to a thriving beneficial mycorrhizal network can tolerate soil pH levels outside of their adapted range, are more drought tolerant, and have fewer diseases. Some mycorrhizal fungi help plants survive in soils contaminated with metal, such as high zinc contamination.
These symbiotic relationships are an ancient magic, with fossil records of plants and mycorrhizas over 400 million years old and quite a bit of evidence of convergent evolution. DNA sequence analysis indicates that these ancient traditions of symbiosis appeared when plants were first colonizing land about 430 million years ago.
You can invoke mycorrhizal fungi into your garden or house plants in two major ways. The first is the ritual of organic matter, whereby you add compost or mulch to your soils to increase the survival rate of native mycorrhizal colonies. The second ritual is to obtain the alchemical elixirs from a reputable practitioner. These elixirs may come in a liquid form, but usually are in the form of a magic dust that you mix with water and then dip plant roots into when transplanting. These powders may also be stirred into compost and then added to the soil used as back-fill when planting trees and shrubs.
When these two rituals are combined, powerful magic infuses your garden. Plants grow larger, healthier and with more resistance to drought and disease. Blooming is increased, providing more nectar to bees and insects, and increasing pollination success. Food production is increased, and the nutrient in this food is increased because the plants are able to obtain more of the necessary nutrients to make fruits and vegetable matter.
Making Magic in Your Garden
A simple but powerful ritual to bring the magic of mycorrhizal fungi to your garden:
- Order a packet of fungi, see the links below.
- Sprout from seed or purchase a pack of vegetable, flower or herb transplants from your local nursery.
- Mix the fungi powder according to the package instructions and dip the root balls of the transplants into the potion.
- For indoor plants, pot up your dipped plants in a good potting soil with a high bark or peat content.
- For outdoor plants, dig a good hole and mix the excavated soil with a good portion of compost, peat, shredded leaf litter or other organic matter. After planting, mulch with 2 to 6 inches of compost, shredded leaf litter, pine needles, straw, wood chips or other mulch materials.
You will see an amazing difference in your garden as the myco-net expands from the center of your ritual circle (planting area) and the plants you treated, to surrounding plants. Combine this ritual with other magical formulas discussed here in the wortcunning area of the PaganPath Library for even more results.
References & Resources
- We have had extraordinary success with Fungi Perfecti's products, especially the MycoGrow™ mycorrhizal fungus line. As an example, an ounce of the soluble powder is about $6 and will treat 125-250 plants, covering about 250 square feet! Check out fungi.com.
- * Such as in the case of the fungus Laccaria bicolor attracting and killing springtales, and in one study Douglas Fir trees were able to get 25% of their nitrogen needs from springtales.
- Witchcraft Gardening Basics
- Sacred Lotus & Heat Producing Plants
- Easy Medicinal Tea Herb Garden
- Artemisia Moon Garden
- Wikipedia entry for mycorrhiza
- Paul Stamets, respected mycologist and founder of Fungi Perfecti has a great Ted Talks video you might enjoy: