Mycelium definition: A single walled multicellular network that conveys information and nutrients over long distances.
Another mycelium definition: Mycelium is the vegetative body that digests food, and receives and respond to signals outside of the body. It is both the brain and stomach wrapped into one.
Have you heard more and more people use the word "mycelium" and wonder what all the buzz is about? Well the mycelial network is what keeps organic life on this planet turning. Mycelium plays many key roles in keeping the ecosystem healthy. If you take 1 step in the forest and lay the entire mycelial network you stepped on end to end it would stretch for over 300 miles! That is a trip from Boston to New York City and back ALL IN ONE STEP!
The ecological mycelium definition is divided into three roles: Saprophytic, mycorrhizal, and parasitic. These three roles mean mycelium can recycle dead organic material, expand and connect plant roots, and keep animal and plant populations balanced and strong. Without the mycelial network we would be buried in dead organic material and new basic building blocks would not be available to plant life to continue growing and creating new tissue.
The mycorrhizal fungi work with over 80% of plant species connecting them to other plants to share information and nutrients (check out this awesome TED talk or this study on the mycelial network enabling plant defenses to insects) as well as expanding the root zone and the materials accessible to fungi. Parasitic fungi like the “zombie fungus” or cordyceps keep insect, plant, and animal species from over-populating maintaining a healthy diverse ecosystem. The video below shows the amazing life of the cordyceps.
Mycelium definition: The mycelial network is the lifecycle stage fungi spend most of their life in. If compared to a tree life the mycelium is the roots, bark, limbs, leaves all wrapped into one. The fruit is the mushrooms and the seed is the spores. One huge difference between people and fungi is WHERE we digest food. Mycelium grows inside of it’s food and actually cannot be separated from the food source. The mycelial network secretes enzymes outside of its body and then absorbs nutrients back in, essentially they have an external stomach. The photo to the left shows several different species of mycelium on petri plates.
There are 13 different phyla in the fungal kingdom so lifecycles vary greatly but all Fungi have mycelium. Two of the phyla ascomycota and basidiomycota form MUSHROOMS, the fruiting bodies that are typically consumed for nutritional, medicinal, psychoactive or gastronomical purposes. Although this is the form of the fungal kingdom humans interact with the most, the mycelial network is really where so much of the magic of fungi lives. Mycelium is always alive and feeling the movements and transitions in the forest, as each leaf drops, stick breaks, or animal steps more food is made available to the mycelial network. Quickly mycelium grows into these new food sources recycling dead material into basic building blocks or trading them with plants for sugars. This cycle places fungi as the alchemists of the world taking everything that is dead and transforming it into potential life.
Some more on mycelium definition
Mycelium has been called the wood wide web, relating it to the purpose and structure of the internet, dark matter, and neurons. The shape that mycelium takes seems to be a fundamental shape for information and resource sharing.
Imagine the last time you walked through the woods, or even on grass in a park. You could see the plants and grass, hear the birds, feel the breeze passing over your face. All of this depends deeply on the mycelial network that rests below. Thousands of species of fungi team through our soils breaking down dead material (saprophytes), connecting plants and expanding their root zones, and attacking living organisms, all of this is possible because of the mycelial network.
All of this study of mushrooms and mycelium leads me to deeply question the world views that I was taught growing up. The ideas of everything being connected and exchanging information and being interdependent scientifically seem irrefutable when the role of mycelium is understood. All of the trees ARE connected, nothing is standing alone in isolation but is impacting and changing things in the environment far beyond our comprehension. Imagine the immense amount of information that is being transported beneath us through the mycelial network. If we could tap into this we would know where animals were, what trees were healthy, which ones were dying, what was guiding tree species selection and what saplings were receiving the most amount of nutrients.
By tapping into the mycelial network we would immediately have access to information hundreds or thousands of miles away from thousands if not tens of thousands of individuals at once. The potential for continuing to learn what mycelium is doing beneath us and allying with it is endless.