Skip navigation |

Fungi and ancient trees

The relationship between ancient trees and fungi is a very close one. Within the woodland ecosystem, fungi play an important role in recycling nutrients and in individual trees– within and between cells, from the leaves in the canopy down to the root hairs. As a tree ages the relationship between trees and fungi remains the same but the species may change.

Fungi can be extremely long lived, perhaps even everlasting, as some species are known to grow continuously.

Each tree creates a unique and dynamic support system for fungi and, contrary to previous opinion, it is likely that rather than being detrimental to the tree, fungi actually prolongs its life.

The two main types of fungi associated with ancient trees are:

  • Decomposers, which are associated with wood, leaf litter, plant and animal matter.
  • Food gathering, or mycorrhizal fungi, which form symbiotic relationships with the roots of trees.

In both groups, some species are associated with a wide range of trees, whereas others are more specific in their tree choices. Fungi can act as essential decomposers and recyclers of plant remains (a particular type of decomposer, called a saprotroph, is particularly associated with the wood decomposition of standing trees and fallen decaying wood) and/or transporters of essential nutrients for the health and optimum growth of trees. They also provide an essential ‘softening’ of the wood for invertebrates.

Ancient woodland and wood pastures support many rare and threatened fungi species. Of the 447 macrofungi on the British Red Data Book list, 400 derive from ancient woodland and lowland pasture woodland. Many, especially those associated with hollowing the heartwood of trees, have very restricted distributions.

Fungi on tree