Toward Mycostry

dwheeler at dwheeler at
Sun Jan 11 15:41:48 EST 1998

The following article is copyrighted by Daniel B. Wheeler, and appeared in
Mushroom the Journal, Spring 1994.

Toward Mycostry, by Dan Wheeler

	Mycostry blends forestry with mycology. Why is a new term needed?
      Chris Maser noted in The Redefined Forest that "forestry" as
currently defined too often ignores or excludes fungi. "Forestry" is
timber, timber, timber. Today's foresters know almost nothing about
fungi.	  Why are fungi important? According to the book The Primary
Source, fungi make up 52 to 55 percent of forest biomass. These fungi
live in soil, on wood and dead leaves, on damaged or stressed trees, and
even in the leaves of healthy trees. Dr James Trappe of Oregon State
University notes that 95 percent of all plant life is symbiotic with
mycorrhizal fungi.  These facts define today's forestry as bad science
and bad business. In supporting fiber production, "forestry" ignores over
half the forest biomass. "Forestry" stresses short-term profit over
long-term productivity. Literally, "forestry" doesn't see the forest for
the trees.    Paul Stamets approaches mycostry in his article
"Permaculture with a Mycological Twist" in the summer 1993 issue of
Mushroom the Journal. But Stamets' treatment of mycorhizal fungus is
flawed. Stamets is willing to let mycorrhizae develop naturally but he
does not recognize the requirements necessary for such development.    
Nor is he alone. Only since 1976 have truffles been reliably cultivated.
All truffles are mycorrhizal. Thousands of mycorrhizal fungi species have
never been grown.    A century ago Gifford Pinchot announced four
requirements to grow tres: air, water, soil and light. Pinchot discovered
these requirements during greenhouse experiments.	 Mycorrhizal
fungi are seldom found in greenhouses.	    All mycorrhizae are symbiotic
- both plant and fungus benefit from the relationship. A tree can live
without mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi can germinate from spores in
the laboratory, but they will never fruit unless plant(s) or tree(s) are
present also.	What are mycorrhizae? The word means "fungus roots." A
mycorrhiza is the interface between a mycorrhizal fungi and a plant's
root hair. It looks like a white sheath aroiund the root hair, or a fuzzy
cocoon. Mycorrhizae is the plural of the word.	 Dr. William Dennison of
Oregon State University says direct ultraviolet light kills most
mycorrhizal fungi. Generally, mycorrhizal fungi live underground or in
large woody debris. Thus their symbiolic relationship with plants is
partly for self-protection. Dense forest canopy decreases ultraviolet
light. Dead leaves, twigs and branches further protect the forest floor
from ultraviolet light.      Mycorrhizal mycelium is barely visible as
tiny threads in soil. Laid end-to- end, the mycelia in a cubic centimeter
of soil would stretch a kilometer, that in a cubic inch several miles.
Because of its size and habitat, mycelium is out of sight and mind.  How
do mycorrhizal fungi benefit plants? They greatly increase water and
nutrient uptake. They detoxify soil, and can act as prophylactics against
pathogens. In 1990 four species of mycorrhizal fungi were found
associated with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Only four species had been
tested. (To my knowledge, only four species have ever been tested.)    
Pinchot noted the importance of soil in forestry. But he didn't define
soil.	 David Perry, a soil scientist at Oregon State University,
defines soil as feces. (Soil may also contain a percentage of rock -
sand, gravel, chips, etc. - but rock is not a requirement of plant
growth.)      Perry examined 1/3 to 1/2 of a cubic foot of forest soil
from the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest near Eugene, Ore. The results
made front-page news in the New York Times. Perry discovered 7,000 new
species of life including arthorpods, mites, copepods, centipedes,
millipedes, wireworms, pseudoscropions and other organisms. He estimates
it will take 15 years just to describe them.	    What do the organisms
eat? Perry suggests they may eat leaves, wood, fungi, feces and each
other. But the data are too new, no one really knows. Perhaps Robert
Rodale, the late founder of Organic Gardening, anticipated Perry's
discovery in stressing the addition of organic materials to soils.  
Perry's announcement makes Pacific Northwest temperate forests the most
biologically diverse areas known on earth. But, like tropical
rainforests, much of their ecology remains a mystery.	  Healthy growing
forests extract atmospheric CO2 and water, stabilize water tables,
control erosion and replenish soil. A 1986 hydrogolical study near
Portland, Ore., showed 70 inches of annual rainfall in a clearcut, but
130 inches under a nearby conifer. The difference was attributed to the
conifer's ability to filter water from fog and clouds.	   Most conifers
extract water from clouds, fog bands and - at higher elevations -
blizzards. The coastal redwood is so specialized at fog capture that it
thrives only within a few miles of the Pacific Ocean.	Each mycorrhizal
fungus species affects the growth rate of trees differently, depending on
soil, rainfall, proximity to saltwater, elevation, slope, and associated
plants and other tree competition.  Forest management in mycostry is
similar to intensive tree management: continuous thinning, pruning and
selective harvest. All management is aimed at maintaining full canopy and
rapid-growing, healthy trees. In young stands of trees, this may
requiring thinning up to 80 percent, in old stands perhaps a single tree
per acre every 20 years.    Mycostry immediately shifts forest economics
to favor fungi. Fungi are the major income source. Lumber remains a
valuable commodity, and lumber quality increases.      Forestry
management in mycostry is minimally invasive. Weak and/or damaged trees
become food for saprophytic fungi. They should be harvested one or two
years before they would likely die of light starvation. 	Such
trees also may be cut to provide downed woody debris (which acts as a
water reservoir and nutrient accumulator) or can be left for wildlife
habitat snags. Indeed, creating snags may be indicated for owl, osprey
and eagle habitat.	Biodiversity is encouraged. Trees are harvested
selectively. The selection process is lengthy and considered. Harvest
management meets criteria similar to those established at the Alamanor
Forest of Northern California.	   Mycostry can be adapted to short-term,
intensively-managed plantations. Its best use is demonstrating that trees
left growing can generate more income than clear-cut harvesting.      
With mycostry, man becomes symbiotic with forest. He beneifts from
greatly increased income, cleaner water and air, biodiversity, more food,
and increased biomass production. Because timber becomes a minor forest
product, trees can grow for generations, instead of just 40 years.

	Coming the next issue: The economics of mycorrhizal fungi.

	Dan Wheeler forages for fungi from Portland, Ore. He has
cultivated over 30 species of fungi including Auricularia platyphyla,
Cantharellus cibarius, Tuber gibbosum and Geopora cooperi. He is past
president of the North American Truffling Society, and a contributing
editor of Mushroom the Journal.

Daniel B. Wheeler

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