Major Differences between Lichens and Mycorrhizae

Lichens and Mycorrhizae are symbiotic organisms that involve two different species dependent on each other for food and shelter. It is a mutualistic relationship wherein both the organisms can gain from each other. Similarly, there are other types of symbiotic relationships where organisms either gain from each other or harm each other.

Let’s take an overview of Lichens and Mycorrhizae before moving on to the differences.


Lichens are a combination of cyanobacterium or an alga with a fungal species. They look very plant-like and therefore sometimes become difficult to spot. They are found commonly on surfaces such as tree barks, rocks and soil crust. The algal part of the symbiosis is called photobiont as it is responsible for the process of photosynthesis thereby providing the fungal part with food. The fungal part on the other hand is known as the mycobiont. The role of mycobiont is to absorb water and provide shelter to the algae. In this way, both the fungus and alga help each other to survive in the environment.

Types of Lichens

There are three types of lichens known:

  1. Crustose: tightly attached to the substrate and give a crusty appearance
  2. Foliose: attached only at one point and gives a leaf-lobe like appearance
  3. Fruticose: they are branched structures

The three types of lichens are- 1. Crustose Lichen 2. Foliose Lichen 3. Fruticose Lichen


Mycorrhizae are a combination of fungi with the roots of higher plant species. Almost 80% of existing plant species are associated with mycorrhizae. In this relationship, plants provide food to the fungi and in return, the fungi absorb water and nutrients from the soil and give it back to the plant.

Types of Mycorrhizae

Broadly, there are two types of mycorrhizae:

  1. Endomycorrhizae: In this type, fungi form vesicles and invaginate into the root cells.
  2. Ectomycorrhizae: In this type, fungi do not penetrate the root cells

Now that we have a better understanding about lichens and mycorrhizae, let’s see how they differ from each other.

Differences between Lichens and Mycorrhizae

Lichens Mycorrhizae
Composed of cyanobacteria or algae and fungi. Composed of roots of higher plants and fungi.
Source of Food
Algae acts as the source of food for fungi. Higher plants act as the source of food for fungi.
Ecological Importance
They act as environmental indicators as they are very sensitive to pollution. They form a network in the soil and prevent leaching away of the nutrients.
Lichens are mostly poisonous. Fruiting bodies of mycorrhizae are edible delicacies, namely truffles, chanterelles, porcini mushrooms and morels.
Industrial Importance
Lichens are used to make dyes, extract chemicals and some antimicrobial substances. No such importance is known.
Type of Fungi
Ascomycetes and basidiomycetes are present as fungus in lichens. Glomeromycetes, Zygomycetes, Ascomycetes and Basidiomycetes are present as fungus in mycorrhizae.

Also read: Mutualism

Stay tuned on BYJU’S Biology to read more about symbiosis!

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the difference between lichen and fungi?

Lichens are composite organisms consisting of algae and fungi whereas fungi are multicellular organisms.


What is the difference between lichen and algae?

Algae are a group of eukaryotic aquatic organisms whereas lichens are a symbiotic association of fungi and algae.


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