On Fridays, we like to highlight some of the remarkable and beautiful things you find right under your nose.
This week, a reader sends in some photos of Lycoperdon pulcherrimum, Latin for "most beautiful wolf-fart."
What we see is the fruiting body of a fungus. Most of the biomass of fungi is below ground, thin threads called hyphae that reach out and absorb nutrients and break down dead material.
Some fungi grow into roots (forming what are called mycorrhizae) get sugar from trees and in exchange help extend their ability to gather water and nitrogen. There have even been studies showing that carbon can flow from one tree to another through the symbiotic fungi that connect them. Some plants are so dependent on a particular fungus that their distribution is limited not by climate but by that symbiont. Fungal growth within living trees can be so abundant that researchers have extracted more fungal DNA than tree DNA from samples they take for evolutionary studies.
Lycoperdon forms the spiny puffballs that my reader (a professor at K-State) finds in his yard in August.
Click through to see more, and to learn why it's called a wolf-fart.
As the puffball grows, it smooths out, eventually forming a smooth brown sphere (at the left of this second photo). The sphere is full of tiny spores, and when it dries sufficiently, the slightest touch will send those spores wafting through the air until they land and begin a new network of hyphae, tying together another forest, or at least another lawn.