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Home » Santa Clarita News » Environment » SCV Outdoor Report » SCV Outdoor Report: Mutualism…

SCV Outdoor Report: Mutualism…

By Wendy Langhans

Back-scratching versus Freeloading…

If you go high enough into the mountains, you begin to see pine trees.

If you go even higher, you begin to begin to see conifer forests.  And that’s where the back-scratching and freeloading begins.  But like all back-room deals, you can’t see it, because it happens underground.

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Technically, this is called symbiosis: “an interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association.”  The back-scratching type of symbiosis, where everybody wins, is known as “mutualism”.  One example of mutualism is the relationship between the pine trees and underground root fungi, also known as mycorrhizae.  The pine trees produce sugar, which is used to feed the fungi.  The fungi provide a network of mycelia that “are quite numerous and extensive, and the conifer uses them to bring water and minerals to itself.”

But everybody does NOT win in every symbiotic relationship.  There are more “insidious” types of relationships.  Look around, especially after the snow has almost melted, and you might notice a blood-red plant, growing about a foot high.  This weird-looking plant is called a Snow Plant (Sarcodes sanguinea).


Like the pine tree, the Snow plant is also involved in a symbiotic relationship with the fungi.  But the Snow Plant is a free-loader and the relationship is parasitic; the fungi provides sugar and water and the Snow Plant takes, without giving anything in return.  And, to make matters even worse, the Snow Plant is indirectly free-loading from the conifer, siphoning off pine-produced sugar through the mycelia of the fungi.

Now that’s what I call cold, blood-chilling cold.  Perhaps the botanists were wiser than they knew when they named that plant.


Upcoming Outdoor Events:

Saturday, March 12 – Sunday, May 29, SCV Search & Rescue Trail Challenge 2011: 12 Weeks/12 Hikes.  Click here for more information.

Saturday, April 16, 8 – 10 AM, Early Morning Bird Hike at Towsley Canyon.  Spring is in full bloom and is the perfect time to discover which birds live and feed in our local mountains.  Beginning birders are welcome.  Meet at the front parking lot.  For directions and trail maps, click here.

Trail Maintenance Schedule.  Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails.  Contact Steve at for time and place.

Wednesday mornings, April 6, 13, 20, 27.

Saturday mornings, April 9, 23.

For a glimpse of our local flowering plants, check out the Facebook page, “90 Days of Santa Clarita Valley Wildflowers”.

You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The SCV Outdoor Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

For the complete MRCA hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, click here or go to

NEW!!!  Check out the new Facebook page  – L.A. Mountains!!!

SCV Outdoor Report: Mutualism…

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