Mycorrhiza—Behind-the-Scenes Help

Evergreen mountain laurel shrub (Kalmia latifolia) does well on steep slopes with shallow, nutrient-poor soils, thanks to help from a root fungus.
Photographer: Judy Teague, courtesy of NatureServe
Some plants can survive rather severe environmental conditions. The attractive late spring-flowering mountain laurel does remarkably well in dry, nutrient-poor, acidic soils. How? There is a specialized friendly fungus colonizing its roots, helping the plant get every possible bit of moisture and minerals that it can from the soil. In return, the plant shares food it produces from sunlight with the fungus. This sort of beautifully functioning relationship between fungi and plant roots is special type of symbiotic relationship called mycorrhizal (fungus-&-root), and it helps many species of plants thrive in their environment.