Mushrooms - Earthstars, Stinkhorns and other little miracles



8th January 2020
illustration of elf carrying away a mushroom in wheelbarrow
'Wishing you Lots of Luck for the New Year!'
German postcard, early 20th Century.
Mushrooms are strange little things, aren't they! They spring up overnight, often in places you least expect. I look out for them on walks, particularly in the autumn and early winter. But this year, a stroll through the woods was marked by a conspicuous absence of any at all. I wondered if people had already taken them - at least the edible ones? Either that or just not a great year for mushrooms, I thought.

Then, in our own garden, two amazing items appeared - ones that I had never seen before or even knew existed. Here they are. Firstly the

Latticed Stinkhorn

...
exotic mushroom with scarlet latticed structure
Clathrus-ruber
Yes, I know, that doesn't sound a very nice name for such a pretty item, but it does describe it perfectly. As you can see, it has an amazing latticed structure with cut-away windows. Then, as it matures, it gives off an odour a bit like rotting meat, so the flies come along and pop through the windows to investigate. This helps the mushroom propagate when the insects fly off again and carry away its spores - so that lots of little baby Stinkhorns can grow elsewhere.

Earthstar

I'll admit to a limited experience and knowledge where mushrooms are concerned, but then the other day this popped up, and also surely another uncommon discovery (at least it was for me) ...
Geastrum triplex
This one has the somewhat more agreeable name of 'Earthstar' - or Geastrum triplex - an Earthstar Fungus.

Lesson for today:

‘mushroom’ is the term given to the visible part of the object, while ‘fungus’ refers to the whole organism, including those bits beneath the ground. So in a sense the two terms are interchangeable.

The number of points on the star can vary, but ours had an almost perfect hexameter (6-pointed) form. If it had not been for the adjacent paving stone it would have been entirely symmetrical, too, I should think.  This one is actually more correctly termed a 'Collared Earth Star' due to the appearance of being contained by a fleshy border. After a few days it grows out from the centre like a golf ball, and then a hole appears through which the spores puff out and drift away in the wind.

Conclusion


Mushrooms – yes, they really are amazing! And it’s little wonder our ancestors used to think of them as being quite magical - like gifts from the 'little people' or the fairies.  Some you can eat, others are poisonous and can prove fatal. And there are even some that can make you feel peculiar, too, when you take a bite. Whatever your interest, however, they are almost always beautiful. Little miracles occurring in our countryside and woods.
intricate illustration of woodland scene with fairies dancing
'Fairy Ring' by Arthur Rackham - from his illustrations to A Midsummer Night's Dream
Authored by Robert Stephen Parry

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