While I was doing a little yard work this week, I came across something tiny, yet awesome. They look like tiny cups filled with a few dark seeds or, as their name implies, tiny bird’s nests.
There are several different species of this Bird’s Nest Fungi in northeast Ohio, but they all belong to the same family, Nidulariaceae. The scientific name is derived from the Latin word “nidus,” meaning nest.
Bird’s Nest Fungi feeds on decomposing organic matter and is often seen growing on decaying wood and in soil enriched with wood chips or bark mulch. These were living where a tree had been cut down almost a year ago and only its ground up stump remained. Like so many fungi, most of the organism is hidden from view. The fungus spends most of its life as a series of nearly invisible threads among strands of decaying wood. The threads secrete enzymes which have the ability to digest wood.
The cuplike nests which are visible are fruiting bodies which contain spore-filled eggs. The nests act as “splash-cups.” When a raindrop hits one at the right angle, the walls are shaped so the eggs are expelled to as much as a yard away from the cup. This unique little fungus is an evolutionary masterpiece and it was very cool to see it for the first time ever in my backyard.