September 04, 2002

Bird Nests! Thousands of Them!

Image copyright Fred First

More fungi. I warned you!

The landscaping trend of surrounding foundation plantings of Junipers and Euonymous and Barberry and such with a thick mulch of shredded bark is certainly a boon to armchair mycologists, like me. Fungal spores think this stuff is to die for, and our landscaping has sprouted a bad case of acne because our mulch is virtually covered with this tiny "Bird Nest Fungus".

One could easily dismiss this as nothing more than unsightly 'brown specks' on the lawn. But look closely, and you can see the little 'nest', which is about 1/4" across, and the half dozen or so 'eggs' it contains. The means of spore propagation in the fungi is one of the most interesting aspects of their biology, and this little Cyathus is no exception. Take a look at this brief if jargon-filled description...and for sure, since the words are sort of confusing, then take a peek at an excellent illustrationof how the bird nest fungus goes about making lots more of the same to decorate your mulch:

[...]Even though it is only rain drops falling on the cup of Cyathus, the force of the ejection causes the fragile outer portion of the stalk (called the purse) to burst--thus releasing the inner funicular cord and basal hapteron that were coiled up inside the hollow stalk. Like a wad of glue, the sticky hapteron strikes a solid object, such as a nearby plant, adheres to a branch, and as the peridiole continues in flight the funicular cord expands to its full length.

Then, like a tetherball winding around a pole, the peridiole winds around the branch where the hapteron has become attached. Thus, the peridiole soon hangs down vertically or is wound around the object to which the hapteron is attached. Upon drying, the peridiole splits open releasing its precious cargo of spores which fall to the ground--perhaps being carried by the wind to new substrates [...]

This is pretty darned amazing. I didn't know all this about the funicular cord and such! Today I'm going to see if I can observe this wondrous event that I have never seen before.

Envision: a grown man, down on his belly in the mulch, out in front of the house with an eye dropper, simulating rain drops, making OOOOH! AAAAAHH! sounds.

And there goes the neighborhood!

Posted by fred1st at September 4, 2002 08:00 AM | TrackBack
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