October 25, 2012 —
The fall forests are full of fanciful fungi right now. Two common but interesting mushrooms that are easily encountered in the Upper Delaware region are puffballs and jelly fungi.
Puffballs are part of a class of fungi known as Gasteromycetes (stomach fungi) that produce spores inside their fruit bodies. They are most often spherical or pear-shaped with rough outer walls and smooth inner walls that act as pouches for the powdery spore masses contained within.
An opening at the top of the fruit body serves as a vent through which spores are released in “puffs” when raindrops pelt the walls or when the puffball is stepped on or struck by a falling object.
Most jelly fungi are characterized by gelatinous fruit bodies that can absorb or lose water, which enables the fungus to adapt and survive for longer periods of time. In dry weather, the fruit body shrivels up and may almost disappear. Rain restores the fruit body to its gelatinous state and allows the fungus to resume spore production.