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Virus Goodwill from BioStim

With all the bad news in the world, I want to do something positive. As a local small business, we are feeling the strain as well. If you have received the government stimulus or have a few extra dollars, we hope to entice you to make a purchase.

For the next week, we will include a 20 gram sample of MycoGold with every order. We hope you will give it to someone who might benefit (drop in their letter box and message them) or pass it onto a family member to use.

This is just our little goodwill effort to help get our thoughts off the virus. Get into the garden/land and grow a plant. The vitamin D and fresh air can only be beneficial 🙂

p.s If you have a business and would like some free promotion, send me a reply email with your details to feature in our next newsletter.  

Kind regards
Tim Lester

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By the way, what actually are ‘saprophytes’?

Saprophytic plants, literally, are plants that live of rotting material (sapros = rotting, and phyton = plant in Greek), but in fact, no plant have been found yet which can use dead organic material for food directly.
Anyway, these plants have no chlorophyll in their cells, which means they are unable to assimilate carbon by themselves. They have no green leaves, often they even have no leaves at all. Saprophytes are mostly whitish, but can have brightly coloured flowers. They grow in places with lots of rotting dead leaves, often in deep shade in tropical forests.

In their underground parts (rhizomes or roots) are certain cells that are filled with structures (hyphae) of soil fungi. Often, but not always, these fungi are capable of ‘digesting’ the rotting material and converting it by enzymes into molecules (sugar) which they can feed on. So, the fungi are the real saprophytes, living of rotting material. Now, the plants without chlorophyll digest the fungus that live inside their roots or rhizomes, thus they are not autotrophic/self supporting, but heterotrophic plants (hetero = another, trophein = feed). And because they are living on fungi they are called myco-heterotrophic plants / MHP’s (mycos = fungus). This mycorrhiza (mycos = fungus, rhizon = root) of MHP’s makes it possible for them to grow in places with not enough light for ordinary autotrophic plants to survive. The same might be the case for places without enough nutrients in the soil.

To complicate matters there is evidence that some fungi neither are saprophytes but have underground connections with big forest trees or other autotrophic plants. So the trees, the fungi, and the myco-heterotrophic plants all three together form a kind of plant community, a symbiosis (living together), to make it possible for the MHP to live. In the special case of MHP’s, the linking fungus delivers the assimilated carbon from the autotrophic plant to the myco-heterotrophic plant.

We are still very much interested in new collections of saps, and we are always willing to identify them.
Our knowledge about saprophytes from Africa and Asia is less extensive, but we are interested to study them as well (especially in the genus Thismia).

Here some hints, how to collect saprophytes:

  • If you find one it is likely that there are more, since circumstances seem to be favorable for this mode of life.
  • Most important is to preserve specimens in spirit (roots, buds, flowers, fruits).
  • Do not forget to collect the root system if possible.
  • Look for pollinators, smell, and something about the flower biology
  • Make drawings or take colour slides.
In general: take some time to have a good look at the plants when you find them: they deserve it!
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Achlorophyllous plants

Achlorophyllous plants are puzzling! They are always characterized by remarkable reductions concerning root, shoot and leaf structure and sometimes even hardly resemble a flowering plant. It is no wonder that they are often collected by mycologists! Here some basic information:

Since assimilation of carbohydrates through photosynthesis without chlorophyll is impossible (as far as we know) and the direct metabolization of dead organic material has never been detected in flowering plants, achlorophyllous plants must have another source of carbon. They split up in two distinct groups:


These plants develop special organs (haustoria) penetrating foreign plant tissue in order to participate at least to some extend from their host’s assimilates (carbon compounds), water or nutrient uptake (e.g. Dodder, Broomrapes).

Mycoheterotrophic Plants (‘Saprophytes’)

In these plants a fungus (or several?) lives inside their roots (‘mycorrhiza’) providing all requirements for plants growth. This is the plant group that I investigate.

Voyria truncata just emerged upon the soil surface. The pencil-sharpener serves as a scale

More than 400 species, in 87 genera and 11 families, of mycoheterotrophic plants have been described. Of those, only orchids and members of the Monotropaceae (Indian-Pipe Family) are fairly well investigated. Information about the other families are scarce. The most recent work on the neglected genera has been done by Hiltje and Paul Maas and co-workers in Utrecht/Netherlands. Nevertheless, root structures (morphology, anatomy, mycorrhiza) are often entirely unknown. Most probably this is due to the remote and hardly accessible habitat of these plants, the deep shaded tropical rainforest, and the fact that they are easily overlooked in the field (see the picture to your left!). Hence, they get found by mycologists!

Lately, I focused on the genus Voyria of the Gentianaceae (Gentian Family) where 19 species have been distinguished so far, all except one living in tropical America. Then I looked after Triuridaceae and Burmanniaceae (TriurisSciaphilaBurmanniaDictyostega). Momentarily, I’m working on Burmanniaceae and Polygalaceae (AfrothismiaEpirixanthes). All of these plants share some morphological characters with Voyria but are not at all related to them. I could show that their mycorrhiza is an arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM), a form of fugus-plant-symbiosis which is very well known for more than hundred years. However, the achlorophyllous species so far investigated revealed some very unique features, yet unknown despite the long and intensive research on AM.

My approach was led by the following questions. Answers I found so far are indicated shortly:

What kind of morphological/anatomical adaptations have evolved in connection to its special life form?
At least one of those adaptations is a ‘condensation’ of the root system (becoming short and thick).
Are mycorrhizas in myco-heterotrophic species different from mycorrhizas in autotrophic species?
Yes, definitely in Voyria tenella, V. obconica, V. aphylla, Triuris hyalina, and Afrothismia winkleri, less pronounced but still different in Voyira truncata, Burmannia tenella, and Dictyostega orobanchoides. More strange mycorrhizal patterns may be anticipated.
Do the mycorrhizas between various myco-heterotrophic species differ?
Yes they do, only in Voyria tenella and V. obconica I found the same ‘intraradical fungus garden’.
What do mycorrhizal structures tell us about taxonomy and systematics?
The closely related Voyria tenella and V. obconica do have the same mycorrhiza whereas V. aphylla shows an intermediate pattern, linking to the mycorrhiza of V. truncata and the autotrophic gentians. The two Burmanniaceae Burmannia tenella and Dictyostega orobanchoides show at least in the root cortices the same intracellular hyphal pattern. Afrothismia winkleri, a Burmanniaceae from Africa, however, has an entirely deviating mycorrhizal pattern (although it is an AM!).
How do these plants use their root fungus?
Very sophisticated!! Please read the abstracts e.g. on Afrothismia winkleri and Voyria tenella .
What is the actual carbon source?
From the observed direct hyphal bridges between roots of neighboring plants and the achlorophyllous plants we must infer the carbon (and most probably everything else too) must come from the neighboring plant.