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mycorrhiza(Greek myco- fungus, rhiza root) an association between a FUNGUS and the roots of a higher plant. In some cases the fungus breaks down PROTEINS or AMINO ACIDS that are soluble and can be absorbed by the higher plant. In most cases, only nitrogen and phosphorus compounds result from fungal activity. Carbohydrates synthesized by the higher plants are absorbed by the fungus, so the relationship is a form of SYMBIOSIS. Some plants which lack chlorophyll, such as the bird's nest orchid, rely on mycorrhizas for carbohydrates in addition to protein.
There are two types of mycorrhiza: ectomycorrhiza and endomycorrhiza. In an ectomycorrhiza the infecting fungus occurs on the surface of the root and possibly between the cells of the root cortex, but does not penetrate such cells. The root becomes covered by a sheath of fungal tissue and looks different from an uninfected root. It is thicker, has no root hairs or root cap and may be a different colour. Ectomycorrhizae are found mainly on trees, such as oak and pine. In an endomycorrhiza the fungus develops within the cells of the root cortex. Subsequently the root cells digest the fungus leaving only knots of fungal material in the cells. There is usually little difference in the morphology of the root and a sheath of fungal tissue is not normally formed.