Plants & Fungi: A Connection Between Sun and Soil


One aspect that struck me as I wrote Earth Party! was how collaborative living things truly are. Flowering plants depend on wind, insects, and animals to propagate. If left to their own devices, they would not produce fertilized seeds. Plants need animals; herbivores (plant eaters) such as birds, deer, rabbits, and rodents need plants.

Fungi’s Role

In Earth Party!, we tackle the story of classification of life using the 5 kingdoms – bacteria, protozoa, fungi, plants, and animals. Of these kingdoms, what is amazing is how related fungi and plants are. Fungi includes organisms such as mushrooms, lichen, yeast, and molds. They decompose life — when fruit goes bad, when trees die, when animals lay on the forest floor, fungi clean them up and over time “make them disappear.” They remain deep in the soil and have vast networks of underground fibers that carry information, almost like a fiber optic network operating below ground. Though they appear plant-like, they are more closely related to animals. Like animals they cannot make food for themselves. Plants are the only kingdom that can make food for themselves (other than algae). There are over 1.5 million types of fungi! One recent movie that helps visualize how they work is Fantastic Fungi; I saw this film at my local independent movie house pre-Covid. (It is currently streaming on Vimeo. Here is the link.) When watching this movie, it becomes apparent how fungi are so interconnected with life in soil, and most of the time we do not even realize they are there. But they are there doing their thing, underground!

The Plant Kingdom

Members of the plant kingdom have the opposite goal – grow tall and reach the sun. They are the longest living organisms on earth – unlike us, they do not die of old age. And they can communicate with each other. (See The Hidden Life of Trees below!) From elementary school botany, you no doubt remember the key term when thinking about plants is photosynthesis, using energy from sun to create sugars and fuel to allow growth – growth to grow taller and reach closer to the sun.

Great Read: The Hidden Life of Trees

Have you heard of the amazing book – The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben? If you have not read it, I would highly recommend getting this book to get an idea of a plant’s mandate to grow tall; growing tall enough to reach the sun, so as not to be dwarfed and left covered by other plants, provides fuel for even more growth.

It is incredible that both of these kingdoms are vital and so connected – fungi breaks down dead trees and plants. Trees and plants goal is to get tall and strong, which then passes vital energy to the fungi below the soil as the trees and plants are decomposed. I would imagine both groups are satisfied with their goal. They have embraced it; they do not fight each other.

In Hidden Life of Trees (page 2), the author talks of finding a covered forest mass, overgrown by moss. When the author dug into the form, he found a tree stump. With the help of a knife, he hit green wood. The stump mass was alive. How this could be — he wondered? He saw in it that –

“Assistance may either be delivered remotely by fungal networks around the root tips–which facilitate nutritional exchange between trees–or the roots themselves may be interconnected…one thing was clear: the surrounding beeches were pumping sugar to the stump to keep it alive.”

Peter Wohlleben – The Hidden Life of Trees


What an amazing, resilient system. If fungi were expected to grow tall, they couldn’t do it. If trees were expected to break themselves down, they would be at a loss—remember, their mandate is to grow tall. The whole system is smart, interconnected, and it works!

New Biology Curriculum

Watch our Organic Learning segment this week on Instagram; we will show photos from the Smithsonian Natural History book that has excellent photos of unique and strange fungi. This book is a recommended resource in our Earth Party! curriculum.

“Words can NOT describe how much my kids and I LOVE this biology program. Sooooo thrilled!”

Cheekylala – Instagram
Earth Party!

If you and your family want to explore the forms of life, we invite you to check out Earth Party! Unit Study. Geared for grades 1-6, this 12-week study will give young students a fabulous bearing about similarities and differences between trees, vertebrates, invertebrates, fungi, algae, bacteria, archaea, and more!

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