Fungal Friends or Fungal Foes?

What do you imagine when you hear the word “fungus”? Do you think of the classic red-capped mushroom with white dots on its pileus (a pileus is the scientific word for a mushroom’s cap)? Or, perhaps  you imagine opening up your fridge to enjoy some juicy sweet strawberries, only to be let down by a white “fuzz” that somehow seemed to appear overnight. Either way, it’s important to emphasize the plethora of ecological roles fungi take on, including decomposition (saprophytic fungi), plant and human parasitic and/or pathogenic lifestyles, fermentation of various food products, and the creation of symbiotic relationships with plants and algae. Here at West Madison Ag Research Station, we acknowledge some fungi as our friends, yet we are also cautious  of particular groups of fungi that could potentially threaten our fruit and vegetable crops. As these blog posts come out, we hope that they will not only help you identify different fungal diseases on your crops, but that they increase your overall appreciation of fungi and their morphological and habitual diversity.


This week, we’ve chosen to highlight a fungal family that is neither beneficial nor harmful to our plants. In fact, we found its fruiting body (a physical structure that produces spores as a means of reproduction) growing on the wood chips used to mulch our grape vines.

The family Nidulariaceae, commonly known as the “Bird’s Nest Fungus” are saprophytes, meaning that they consume and break down dead organic matter. When observing the basidiocarps (a specific type of fruiting body), of the Nidulariaceae, it’s easy to see how this family got its name. The small spore packets at the bottom of its “nest” (technically known as a peridium) look like tiny eggs. Rain will eventually splash the spore packets away from the fruiting body, thus dispersing the spores.

Below is a picture of the fruiting bodies of a particular genus of the Nidulariaceae family (we unprofessionally identify it as the genus Cyathus). The white poofs are immature fruiting bodies. As the structure matures, the top of the basidiocarp dehisces and pulls away, revealing a few spore packets within.


More fruiting bodies…

IMG_0195-Madeline Wimmer, WMARS Intern