What To Do When You See Mushrooms and Fungi in Soil

For millions of years, plants have been BFF’s with microbes found in soil, forming strong, intricate relationships. Plants interact with both bacteria and fungi in soil, and in fact, if it were not for fungi there would be no life on land. Here, we give you a rundown on mushrooms, fungi, and their relationship status to plants.

What To Do When You See Mushrooms and Fungi in Soil

Words by The Sill

Plants 101 Next Article
For millions of years, plants have been BFF’s with microbes found in soil, forming strong, intricate relationships. Plants interact with both bacteria and fungi in soil, and in fact, if it were not for fungi there would be no life on land. Here, we give you a rundown on mushrooms, fungi, and their relationship status to plants.
Fungi First

Scientists agree that fungi colonized land well before plants did. As to when they colonized land is a difficult question to answer, as our approximations are based on fossil records and can only tell us when only some organisms existed – i.e. organisms with hard or solid body parts or spores, which many fungi are anything but. Regardless of when fungi colonized land, we know they added a component to soils that was not present in soils before – large amounts of carbon. This helped to not only break down the rocks on land, but also to help retain water on land, and consequently help pave the way for plants. Thanks, fungi.

Lichen

One of the first and oldest interactions between plants and fungi is the symbiotic relationship known as a lichen. A lichen is formed from cells of algae and a filamentous fungus weaving together to form a unit that is different from either organism. The algae feeds the fungus sugars and the fungus helps to retain moisture and occasionally provide nutrients from either the substrate that they’re growing on or from dust in the air.

On the surface, this relationship seems symbiotic, which would mean both organisms can exist separately, but cooperation makes survival easier for both organisms, kind of like cohabitating with roomates. However, this is not the case for the lichen. Lichen does extend the range in which each organism can survive, but although the algae can exist and live freely, the fungus cannot.

Whether or not the fungus was able to survive in the past by itself and has lost that ability is up for debate, but either way, the relationship has evolved to be either one of commensalism or parasitism. You know, clingy.

Endophytes

Other fungi in the soil that we know are relative to plants belong to three major groups: the Basidiomycetes, the Ascomycetes, and the Oomycetes. Most endophytic fungi – that is, fungi that lives between living plant cells – are Ascomycetes, with some being Basidiomycetes. And the relationships of many endophytes to their plants are symbiotic.

Fun fact: next time you uncork a bottle of your favorite red, consider that endophytes are also responsible in part for the flavor of most wine grapes, such as the Cabernet Sauvignon.

the sill yellow parasol mushrooms full

Occasionally, the fungi which live in the soil or the endophyte (or in some cases, it is the same fungus) may be in ideal conditions, and will reproduce sexually by producing a mushroom. This is perfectly normal, and is even considered to be good luck in some areas of the world.

Houseplants

We tend to think of houseplants as just the plant, but we often forget that each pot of soil is a tiny ecosystem. Microbes like bacteria and fungi live in the soil and some of them are helpful to our houseplants, while others are harmful. Most fungi in healthy soil exist to help the plant, and do so by many means.

To communicate with the plant, the fungus must connect with its roots. Through these root connections, the fungus can send and receive chemical signals to and from the plant. Some fungi will stay outside of the roots, while others may penetrate the root cells.

Regardless of which type of fungus the plant is interacting with, it accomplishes two major functions:

First – the fungus lowers the pH of the soil by selectively absorbing NH4+ (ammonium) and kicking out the H+. This helps solubilize and mobilize metals and phosphates that are essential for your plant. As a consequence of the ammonium absorption, this excess source of nitrogen also leaks into the plant. The plant trades carbon in the form of hexoses to the fungus for the phosphates and other minerals. And it just so happens that phosphate is essential for plant life.

Second – not only do fungi provide nutrients to the plant, but they also allow chemical communication amongst plants. This network of fungi has been shown to allow insect-attacked plants communication to their neighbors. It has been measured that nearby plants will boost their own innate defenses if they hear over the mycelium that one of their neighbors is being attacked – sort of like your emergency contact. Some plants use the mycelial network for more devious purposes – spreading toxins and growth suppressants so that other plants cannot grow. While others use it for more altruistic purposes like sharing sugars and nutrients to neighboring plants.

the sill yellow parasol mushrooms 2 full

Fungi, masters of the soil, can be beneficial for your houseplants. When and if you see a mushroom in your plants soil, consider it a sign of a happy, healthy mini ecosystem. And depending where you live, a sign of good luck.

Grow with us.

Join our reward program to claim your 15% off welcome gift and start earning points.

Learn More

Phalaenopsis Orchid Plant Care

Orchids are epiphytic in their native habitat, growing on trees and rock formations, instead of directly in the ground. The orchid family (Orchidac...

Plant Care for Large Plants

Larger plants are a wonderful way to transform your space into a lush and tranquil tropical paradise. Here’s some things to keep in mind when bring...

How To Move Your Plants Outside for Summer

Transitioning your indoor plants to the outdoors is not easy. Exposed to the elements, outdoor plants can require extra attention and commitment. T...

Five Summer Plant Care Tips and Tricks

As the seasons change, so too do your plant’s needs. Indoor plants are affected by outdoor changes. In this article, we’re talking about all thing...

How To Keep Your Plants Alive While On Vacation

Going on vacation? Here’s our top tips and tricks to keep your houseplants happy and healthy while you’re away.   

Gifts for Mom

At The Sill, we celebrate Mom and mother figures year-round. That said, we never turn down an opportunity to surprise them with something special. ...

Tips & Tricks for a Successful Plant Propagation

If you’re propagating a plant by stem or leaf cutting, we have a few tips and tricks you can follow to ensure the cuttings take root and thrive wit...

What is plant toxicity?

Before bringing a new plant home, it's important to ensure that it is safe and non-toxic for our furry campions who share the same space with us. R...