The mycelium network has been known about for quite some time as the system used by mushrooms to communicate and spawn. Now, this same natural technology can be employed to aid in cannabis cultivation. Indeed, the mycelium network, and its incredible ability for communication, can be used to help grow cannabis.
What is the mycelium network?
First off, the mycelium network is relevant to fungi, and some bacterial colonies. Mycelia are tiny thread-like structures that branch out in masses. By themselves they are hyphae, together they form mycelium networks. Each fungal spore produces a mycelium, which is not capable of sexually reproducing until it finds another compatible mycelium. When these two compatible monokaryotic mycelium get together, they form a dikaryotic mycelium, which can then produce a mushroom.
Mycelia can often be found underground, but can be found in other places, like where wood is rotting, or in the roots of other plants. They serve an important service in the ecosystem, breaking down organic material in the soil, so that component parts can be available again as nutrients for other plants. About 92% of plants have interaction with these fungi, creating a symbiotic relationship, called mycorrhiza. Not all types of mycelium connections will form these symbiotic relationships. Saprophyte and parasitic mycelium, which either scavenge for food, or absorb it from a living host while providing no benefit, do not.
Mycorrhiza – broken down from the Greek ‘mukès rhiza’ (fungus root), implies a beneficial relationship for both parties (plants) involved. In a typical mycorrhiza relationship, the plant will provide the fungus with sugars from photosynthesis, and the fungus helps bring water and nutrients from the soil, to the plant. The fungi in these relationships can often act as protection for the plant from pathogens, as well as triggering self-defense chemicals in the attached plant. This allows for ‘priming’, which means quicker and more effective immune responses in the future.
Mycorrhiza fungi can grow either around the outside of the plant’s roots (ectomycorrhiza), or inside them (endomycorrhiza). The latter can actually invade the roots of the plant. In these cases, a mantle is formed around the roots by the hyphae. Plants that have grown accustomed to a relationship with mycorrhiza fungi, depend on it for better growth and higher yields. If the mycorrhiza is harmed, or taken away, the plant will do much worse on its own.
Can plants talk to each other via the mycelium network?
This, of course, depends on your definition of communication. If you’re thinking that two fungi are speaking back and forth to each other, or that a fungus is having a conversation with a tree, you’ll be disappointed by the truth. But the truth is no less amazing, even if the way plants communicate via the mycelium network, is in contrast to our ideas of what communication means.
In 1997, University of British Colombia researcher Suzanne Simard, put out this study, Net transfer of carbon between ectomycorrhizal tree species in the field, which explored the ability of Douglas fir trees and paper birch trees to transfer carbon amongst them, via a mycelium network. Since then, it has also been found that plants can exchange phosphorus and nitrogen too, also by way of mycelia.
Simard believes that it goes beyond simple transfers. She thinks that larger, stronger trees, use the network to help out smaller, or younger ones. In her 1997 study, Simard found that seedlings in the shade, which should have had minimal carbon and been short on food, actually gained carbon from other trees that essentially donated it. In a 2011 documentary video Do Trees Communicate?, Simard stated: These plants are not really individuals in the sense that Darwin thought they were individuals competing for survival of the fittest… In fact they are interacting with each other, trying to help each other survive.”
More examples of plant communication
How else have plants been shown to communicate with each other using mycelia? South China Agricultural University researcher Ren Sen Zeng, found in 2010 with his study Interplant Communication of Tomato Plants through Underground Common Mycorrhizal Networks, that when a plant is attached to dangerous or harmful fungi, that the plant will release chemical signals as a warning to other plants, via the mycelium network.
This was done by raising sets of tomato plants, and letting one plant in each set create mycorrhizae relationships. Then, one plant in each pairing was sprayed with a particular fungus that causes ‘early blight disease’, called Alternaria solani. The plants were put in air-tight plastic bags above the soil to ensure no communication could take place above ground. Zeng waited 65 hours before trying to infect the second plant in each set of tomato plants. He found these plants less likely to become infected with blight, with less damage caused when they did, so long as the plants had mycorrhiza fungi attached.
Said Zeng, “We suggest that tomato plants can ‘eavesdrop’ on defense responses and increase their disease resistance against potential pathogens.” This was reinforced in 2013 when University of Aberdeen researcher David Johnson put out this study: Underground signals carried through common mycelial networks warn neighbouring plants of aphid attack, which found that broad beans also used mycelium networks to signal distress to other plants. Johnson and his team found that bean seedlings that were not themselves under attack by aphids, were still able to activate anti-aphid chemicals in defense, so long as they were attached to other plants that were being attached, via a mycelium network. This was found not to be the case for plants unattached to a network.
Benefits of using the mycelium network to grow cannabis
There are currently five known types of mycorrhiza fungi which have been identified: 1) arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, 2) ectomycorrhizal fungi, 3) orchid mycorrhizae, 4) ericoid mycorrhizae, and 5) monotropoid mycorrhizae. The most common is arbuscular mycorrhizal, which is associated with 90% of all other plants on the planet, and this includes cannabis. Ectomycorrhizal fungi, for example, only associate with approximately 5% of other plants, and will not form networks with cannabis plants.
So, if this natural technology is desired, the right fungi must be used. In fact, arbuscular fungi are the only kind to form a relationship with cannabis plants. The following is a list of benefits of using mycorrhiza fungal networks with cannabis:
- More root surface area – These networks can extend very far, and that means more surface area. This is beneficial because it allows for more water, nutrients, and minerals to be absorbed.
- Defense – As already discussed, these fungal networks can protect a plant from attacking pathogens.
- Increases nutrient uptake – This is particularly relevant to cannabis plants. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi will absorb from the soil, and provide molecules of iron, zinc manganese and other nutrients. This is particularly useful during the flowering stage, when the mycelia help the plants absorb more phosphorus to create bigger buds, and better yields.
- Increased stress tolerance – Plants with mycorrhiza fungal networks are better at tolerating pH and salinity issues, with the mycelium creating more suitable soil by affecting pH and salinity. It also increases tolerance for droughts, since the plants can use these wide-stretching networks to reach across long distances to find water.
Using the mycelium network to grow your cannabis
What does a grower need to do to employ the help of a mycorrhiza network? There are two important things to understand:
- For one thing, they need to make sure the fungi are there from early on. Cannabis plants don’t last a long time like trees, and don’t have years to build up a network. Therefore, growers should introduce these fungi early on. The earlier these fungi are applied, the better chance the plant has later. Products with higher concentrations are also useful here, as it gives the plant the best chance of establishing a network.
- Indoor grows especially can benefit from the application of these fungi, as the plants are in separate pots that are not connected, and not in ground soil. These plants therefore have no access to existing networks, and can’t create new ones between each other.
When applying a mycorrhiza fungal product, the following steps should be taken to increase overall efficacy:
- The fungal product should be mixed into the soil evenly, this will allow consistent amounts of fungi throughout the soil. Specific products should have instructions on the label. As the cannabis roots grow, there will be plenty of fungi there to attach with.
- When the plant is transferred to another pot, the same fungal product should be put in the hole that the plant will go in. This helps reduce shock, and should be applied at the rates recommended by the product providers.
- The last thing is also done during transplantation. The fungal product should be put in a bowl that’s big enough for the plant’s roots to fit in. The soil around the plant’s roots should be wet a little, and then rolled around in the product to evenly cover the sides and bottom. When the root area is sufficiently covered, it can be put into the planting hole.
Best Mycelium network products to grow cannabis
Using the mycelium network to help grow cannabis – or other plants – isn’t new, and there are several products to choose from. One of the bigger providers is Dynomyco, which provides its ‘mycorrhizal inoculant’. This endomycorrhizal fungi (which is a type of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi) helps “plant nutrient uptake, which translates to healthier, more resilient plants, higher quality, and higher yields!” according to the company. Pouches of this product come in different sizes depending on the grow op. The Mini Pouch is 3.5oz, costs $14, and is good for treating up to 20 plants. The Small Pouch contains 12oz, costs $28, and is good for use with up to 68 plants. The large Pouch has 26.5oz, costs $52, and can be used to treat up to 150 plants.
For much bigger grows, Dynomyco provides the Small Pail, which has 22lbs, costs $500, and can be used with up to 2,000 plants. And for even bigger grows there is the Large Pail, which comes with 44lbs, costs $800, and can be used for up to 4,000 plants.
Other options exist. A favorite of growers is Orca® Liquid Mycorrhizae. Orca includes beneficial bacteria along with mycorrhiza fungi, and helps to build a microbial system in and around plant roots. This formulation can be used in regular watering, or with a hydroponic or irrigation setup. Orca® Liquid Mycorrhizae comes in sizes ranging from 100ml to five gallons, with prices ranging from $9 to $1,114.3 respectively.
Yet another option is Easy Roots – Mycorrhiza Mix by Royal Queen Seeds. This 100% organic blend of over 200 species of glomeromycotan fungi, will help your plants optimize absorption of necessary nutrients. 50 grams of this mix costs $24.32 (€19.95.)
There’s a lot to consider when growing marijuana plants, and a lot to get right. One of the most important factors is allowing plants to be part of a mycorrhiza fungal connection. This is luckily easy to do with the correct products. By allowing your plants to enter into a mycelium network, you can grow your cannabis plants that much bigger and better.
Some people are happy to cultivate their own, and can employ tactics like the mycelium network to grow cannabis. Other people prefer to buy their products. We support both, but have a range of products – cannabis, hemp and even psychedelics, so don’t wait, subscribe to our newsletter below:
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.
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