Monday, 2 July 2012

Earthstars are very strange fungi


Earthstar

When I lived in Ely in Cardiff I had a number of strange plants and mushrooms that came up in my garden and one of the most curious of all was a fungus that is known as the Earthstar. They suddenly arrived one autumn amongst the dead leaves under the bushes and trees at the bottom of my garden. It was almost like a peaceful invasion of some very small alien beings

It seemed a very suitable place to find them, but a real mystery because they are said to grow most frequently under Beech trees in woods, and there were none anywhere near my house. In fact the nearest forest was about a mile away. Not only that but they are not a common fungus in any case. Why had they picked my garden as a home?
Earthstars are in the family Geastraceae, which translates as "stars of Ge/Gaia" (the Earth). The species that was growing in my garden was Geastrum triplex. Although none of these weird fungi can be described as “common” this species is probably the one that is most often seen. They are always included in books about British, European and North American fungi.

Earthstars are unmistakable. There is nothing else quite like them.They have a body like a puffball with a hole right in the middle that will puff out millions of spores, and around it is a formation of arms that makes it look like a star. It looks more like some weird sea creature than a fungus. Like a starfish living on the land perhaps?

Dry Earthstars

The arms peel back and can crack or they can curl up when the weather is very dry. The whole fungus can break off from its base in the ground and get moved about like fungus tumbleweed. The Earthstar fungus is the only fungus I know of that can actively move around, although all species move very slowly as they grow bigger.
Rain also helps the fungi disperse their spores that get puffed out of the central sack in heavy showers as the raindrops hit the Earthstar. I can only assume they arrived in my garden carried as spores on the wind. The Earthstars were growing under a rescued Christmas tree and under a very large Privet bush and by a small Yew Tree. Every autumn they appeared for several years in a row and were still there right through the winter. They tolerated very cold spells and drying up too. Rain revived them but eventually they got eaten away by snails and woodlice. They might still be growing there if the new people living there haven't destroyed the end of the garden.

I made a point of puffing out millions and millions of spores and like to think that I was helping the Earthstar fungus colonise somewhere else on the planet. I watched them blowing away in the breeze. And they do appear to be a colony, a colony of weird alien creatures. They not only look like stars but look as if they have come from the stars! 

Bard of Ely with some of the Earthstars

Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

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