The observant eye may have spied what look like miniature bird nests filled with tiny eggs growing in gardens and wood chips this time of year. They are a type of fungus that forms fruiting bodies that employ a “splash-cup dispersal” mechanism in order to disperse its spores.
The nests (peridia) serve as splash cups; when raindrops strike the nest, the eggs (peridioles) are projected into the air. In some species, each peridiole is attached to the inner surface of the cup by a slender, hollow stalk which contains an inner, coiled, threadlike “funicular cord.” The fragile outer layer of the stalk is easily ruptured, thus releasing the inner, coiled cord. When wet, the cord elongates greatly and may reach a length of 6-8 inches. The base (hapteron) of this elongated cord is very sticky and adheres readily to solid objects after it is released from the cup. Like a wad of glue, the sticky cord base strikes a solid object, such as a nearby plant, adheres to a branch, and as the peridiole continues in flight the cord expands to its full length. Then the peridiole winds around the branch where the hapteron has become attached and is suspended in the air. Upon drying, the peridiole splits open, releasing its spores.
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