Birds Nest Fungus
Occasionally when I introduce a new species a student will ask “What good is it?” implying, of course, that unless there is some utility to a species it is of little relevance. But perhaps like you, I am quite happy to consider some of these seemingly insignificant organisms as just another species trying to eke out an existence. Furthermore, some of these species can be quite interesting.
A good example of that is the bird’s nest fungus, which grows on wood. You may see them growing on a rotting log in the forest, but if you have a lot of wood chips used in the landscaping of your lawn, you may be supporting a mother lode! I have seen them virtually cover the wood chips in a small area, particularly if it is well watered.
The bird’s nest fungus is a member of the club fungi, which includes most mushrooms and bracket fungi. As the name implies, the bird’s nest fungus produces a fruiting or reproductive structure that resembles a small bird nest complete with eggs.
These fruiting structures are small, thin, rather rigid cups around a quarter to a half-inch tall, with a diameter of about a quarter of an inch at the top and then tapering downward. If you look down into the cup there will be what looks like several little eggs. These egg-like structures are actually little packets of spores. When the structure is mature the “nest” functions as a sort of splash cup. When a raindrop lands in the cup, some of the “eggs” may be catapulted out of the cup, thus dispersing the spore cases to new habitats. But it gets even more interesting.
These “eggs” (I should really use the term peridioles) not only contain many spores, but also has a fungal version of a long rope and anchor attached to it. If all goes well, the whole apparatus will go hurling through the air and eventually get caught-up on the surface of a piece of wood. The spores can then germinate and become established on their new home. How is that for spore dispersal in a fungus?
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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