Mariton: Fungi at Camp

July 27, 2011

Marion Kyde was the speaker today, and she talked about fungi.  She brought several samples for the children to see.  Fungi are not plants, but many plants could not survive without fungi.  Why?  Well fungi send out miles and miles of mycelium (almost microscopic threads) that direct water, minerals and other nutrients to plant roots.  In exchange, trees and other plants pass on some of the sugars that they produce through photosynthesis to the fungi.  Fungi are also instrumental recycling the nutrients in dead trees and other organisms.

The children loved these Birds Nest Fungi (above).  Inside the little “nests” are tiny “eggs”  that each hold thousands of spores.  When a drop of rain hits the edge of the nest it displaces the “egg” into the air.  The egg has a “sticky tail” that it deploys during its flight.  The “tail” is several inches long and catches on the surrounding vegetation as it flies through the air, leaving the “egg” hanging.  This makes the release of spores more effective than if it was just laying on the ground.  (Now, something is wrong if you didn’t say:  “WOW!” after reading that.  There is something right about the kids in our Nature Camp.)

We were able to find some fungi when we walked on the trails.  Because it had been so dry (until Monday afternoon) the mushrooms were hard to find.  Marion figured that by Friday, we should see a lot of fungi.  Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of some types of fungi.  (Just like an apple is the fruiting body for an apple tree.)  The bulk of the fungus is working underground, but when conditions are right it sends out fruiting bodies to release spores and so disperse to new areas.

One of the cool fungi we found on our walk were these “Dead Man’s Fingers”.  What a great name.  They poke up through the soil and look like – you guessed it – reaching up from the grave.  Marion felt that this specimen was more extensive that any she had seen.

I have been calling these Turkey Tails for years, but these are the False Turkey Tails.  Now I know how to tell the difference, and will look more closely.  (All photos by Carole Mebus.)