Usually when one thinks about the word “Parasite” the assumption that it must be a bad thing is usually the first conclusion. However, in some cases, parasites are beneficial!
The Mycorrhiza is a parasite that lives on and within the root systems of many trees. Though it was once thought to be a disease or parasitic infection, it is actually parasite that forms a cooperative relationship with its host; therefore it should be encouraged.
The symbiotic Mycorrhiza attaches itself to the tree’s roots actually becoming like the trees own root hairs. While the Mycorrhiza gets vitamins and life giving carbohydrates from the tree it also produces ions which it transmits directly to the tree and gives the roots more efficient access to nutrients in the soil by providing a more absorbent surface on the root system and dissolving silicates in the soil into readily available nutrients with the acids it produces. Mycorrhiza is also suspected of producing nitrogen and natural growth hormones which protect the root system against pathogens.
On some trees, such as the cedar, spruce, pine, fir, and oak to name a few, the Mycorrhiza is easily able to be seen as a fine, white, webby substance. On other trees such as the juniper and maple for example, it is not visible because it is located on the inside of the trees roots.
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If you suspect that a tree may have Mycorrhiza attached to the outside of its roots it is very important not to transport or bare root that tree. Many trees will die if Mycorrhiza is removed since they are dependent upon it for much of their nutrition and will be unable to reproduce more in time.
To encourage the growth of this beneficial parasite, make sure that your Bonsai is planted in a medium with good drainage, which has reasonably low amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus for optimum Bonsai health and wellbeing, taking care to provide adequate sunlight and healthy moisture levels. With proper care and attention to ideal soil pH your Bonsai will have the perfect environment to establish a permanent residency with its symbiotic, parasitic friend.