Archive for April, 2017

Stopped in My Tracks

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

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     A few weeks ago, on one of my wanderings in the forest down the slope from our house, I saw a sight that stopped me in my tracks.  There, just inches above the ground were what looked for all the world like a pair of tiny breasts!  The two cream-colored globes, complete with perfectly placed, protruding nipples, seemed to have burst proudly from some gauzy-looking material.

     I stood and stared.  Then I noticed another one of these ‘breasts’ a few feet farther down the hill.  Then another and another, all within a small area.

     How could this be?  I have walked in this forest many, many times, in all seasons for 20 years, but have never seen anything like this!  Wouldn’t I have noticed?  Or could these ‘breasts’ have developed only this year, and not before?

     Of course I took pictures of them.  And since I had no idea what they could be, I sent a photo to my friend Chris, who knows far more about forest flora than I do.  She wrote me back, saying that they are likely ‘lattice puffballs,’ or, in Latin, colostoma lutescens.

     Now that I had a name to go on, I decided to do a little research. Chris was right.  These little ‘breasts’ are indeed a kind of puffball.  And puffballs are a type of fungus.  But unlike other forest fungi, such as mushrooms, whose spores are located on the outside of the fruiting body, puffballs’ spores are contained inside the fruiting body, in this case the little breast.

     When the spores inside this puffball mature, all that is needed is a little rain.  The drops exert sufficient pressure on the puffball to force the white powdery spores out through the ostiole, or what looks like the nipple.  Hence, the flecks of white powder I noticed here and there on the dead leaves surrounding the colostoma lutescens.  How I would love to be on hand sometime to see spores spewing from a puffball in the rain!

     I learned that these breast-like puffballs are mycorrizal, meaning they have a symbiotic relationship with plants.  In this case, the puffballs colonize the root system of the nearby oaks, increasing the trees’ absorption of water and nutrients.  The trees, in turn, provide the puffballs with carbohydrates the trees create during photosynthesis.

     A few days later, I went outside to see how the colostoma lutescens might have changed since I’d seen them.  Well, I could find no trace of them at all!  They had completely vanished.  I assumed they had completed their life cycle and dried up.  Still, I was surprised to see not even a hint of the previously fulsome little beings.  

     I wonder if I will ever see their like again!–April Moore 

 

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