There Are Funguses Among Us

No matter what the time of year, whether inside or outside, there are a spectacular number of funguses in our area of life.particularly around late winter and early spring. In fact, some of their great days will soon be here. And among my favorites are the earth-stars, especially Astraeus hygrometricus. When open this smallest of the earth-stars has seven to nine lobes between two to four inches across. The round center is up to an inch in diameter, white to pale brown, and seated in a plain circular disk. At first it's completely below ground but pushes its way up through mostly sandy soils and is widely distributed in North America. The season in our Appalachian Mountains is usually around November. According to Nina Marshall, (writing in The Mushroom Book), the water- measuring earth-stars are found all over the world and "--When the weather is wet, the lining of the points of the star become gelatinous and lie flat on the ground, anchoring the plant firmly; but when the weather is dry, the soft, gelatinous part becomes hard and rigid, and curls the segments up around the inner ball; then the wind rolls it about, and it scatters its spores from the hole in the apex of the ball as it rolls. It is a fair-weather traveler, always resting at night and on damp days." There is another pretty earth-star, Geastrum floriforme, about an inch across, that appears singly or in small groups on sandy soil and is widely distributed in North America. It's also known as the resurrection plant from Palestine. Like the pale white Indian pipes (genuine plants without chlorophyll), and the other funguses that habit our mountain woodlands, these plants are oddities. But imagine the garden you would have if the path to the strawberry patch was lined by neat columns of giant puffballs or the winter rock garden could be festooned with dozens of earth-stars, each one looking like an overbaked sugar cookie, a solid shape on the melting snows of early spring.