Stopped in My Tracks

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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 


8 Responses to “Stopped in My Tracks”

  1. Diane Artz Furlong Says:

    I love this kind of private adventure. Like the Universe prepared it just for you, knowing when you’d be there. Thanks for sharing. Truly wonderful.

  2. DonnaB Says:

    Precious and priceless observation! Even more outstanding is your description of this discovery in your otherwise familiar forest. The forest is full of surprise gifts for those of us who seek them. I know puffballs, but have not seen this type. I shall be alert now since I have many oaks in my area. I often see “Indian Pipes” the pipe shaped white flowers on white stems. Officially known as “Monotropa uniflora”. They look like a fungus but are actually a perennial flower. Cool stuff happens beneath our feet. What a treat to find them. Hope your Earth Day was equally special. Tread softly, forest friend.

  3. Jude Says:

    Very interesting story. Glad you posted pictures!

  4. Tanya Says:

    What a lovely Earth Day surprise! Thank you!

  5. sandi rose Says:

    Well, April, you’ve done it again. You’ve taken me into a sacred place on this old Earth to see what money people probably just tramp on as they tromp through the woods with their earbuds in. You continually validate the notion that it is, indeed, the journey that so often matters more than the destination.

    I spent Earth Day in quite the opposite company of forest life. Heroes all, scientists and those of us who love and respect them and are the deeply grateful recipients of what they give to our lives and how they teach us to think rationally, we marched in the cold and rain to affirm our commitment to science. They came by the thousands with children, colleagues, classmates, babies, and dogs. It was the first time in a very long time that I have felt safe from the devious, plotting minds of Trumpsters. At days end, the words to live by were pleas for scientists to become our new political leaders, and to never give up bearing witness to the truth.

  6. jan cyr Says:

    Love that you have found, what we here in the Great Northwest call, Shaggy Mane. One of my favorite edibles. When they are just past the right picking. or more appropriately cutting stage (so they will keep returning because you haven’t plucked out their roots) you can push on their bottoms and out the nipple (as you called it) puffs their little spores! Such an endless wonder the natural world, yes?

  7. James Says:

    …just be careful then, `cause those spores can kill your dog.

  8. Gail Says:

    April, I so appreciate when you point out these beauties and wonders that could easily be overlooked. And then you remind us of the elaborate ways all things are interconnected. Thank you for the visuals, thanks for taking me into your experience, and thank you for enlarging my own mindfulness.

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