The Bird's Nest Fungi
[ Basidiomycota > Agaricales > Agaricaceae . . . ]
by Michael Kuo
These odd and fascinating little fungi look for all the world like tiny birds' nests. The fruiting bodies form little cuplike nests which contain spore-filled eggs. The nests are called "peridia" ("peridium" in the singular), and serve as splash cups; when raindrops strike the nest, the eggs (called "peridioles") are projected into the air, where they latch onto twigs, branches, leaves, and so on. What exactly happens next is not completely clear, but eventually the spores are dispersed from the egg. They then germinate and create mycelia, which eventually hook up with other mycelia and produce more fruiting bodies.
Five genera—Crucibulum, Cyathus, Mycocalia, Nidula, and Nidularia—are included among the bird's nests. In North America the majority of the bird's nest fungi are subtropical and tropical, but a handful of species can be found north of the Gulf Coast. Identifying the bird's nest fungi is a matter of careful inspection of physical features (you may need a magnifying glass) and, occasionally, microscopic analysis.
Have you collected a bird's nest fungus recently? Researchers at the University of Florida are currently working on this fascinating group of mushrooms, and they would love to study well-documented, preserved collections. If you're interested in helping, please send me an email at .