Truffles and mushrooms are the “fruit” of underground. The fungi of all truffles are mycorrhizal. Mycorrhizae are essential in assisting trees obtain nutrients and water from the soil – without mycorrhizae we would not have forests as we know them today. Truffles are also an important part of the food chain via mycophagy. For example, flying squirrels rely on truffles for food, and spotted owls rely on squirrels for food. In turn, the fungi rely on the squirrels (and owls!) for spore distribution, the trees rely on the fungi for nutrient acquisition, the fungi rely on the trees for energy, i.e.sugars from photosynthesis, and the owls and squirrels rely on the trees for habitat.
As most truffles never break the surface of the soil, they must rely on animals to eat them and distribute the spores in their scats. The word “mycophagy” comes from the Greek words “mykes” (fungus) and “phagein” (to eat). Some animals, like the vole, eat truffles almost exclusively. Truffles have evolved strong scents that, as they mature, that can be detected from a distance.
Mycorrhizae is a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) association between some kinds of fungi and plants. The word “mycorrhizae” comes from the Greek words “mykes” (fungus) and “rhiza” (root). Fungal filaments (hyphae) are much more efficient at extracting water and nutrients from the soil than root hairs – it has been reported that there are as much as 100 meters of fungal hyphae in one teaspoon of healthy forest soil. The fungal hyphae not only permeate the soil, they penetrate the root cells of plants and facilitate a nutrient exchange where the host plant gets needed nutrients from the soil via the fungi, and the fungi which cannot perform photosynthesis get their needed sugars from the host plant. Many plants will not grow well at all unless they have mycorrhizal fungi on their roots helping them get nutrients