(Update: After I posted this entry, I had the good fortune to meet an amazing mycologist, Dr. Tom Volk, professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. Check out TomVolkFungi.net--his website is well worth exploring! He has a great FYI page as well as a "Fungus of the Month" page and my favorite, the "Holiday Fungi" page. Many thanks Dr. Volk!)
The drenching rains recently produced by Hurricane Irene and the warm temperatures following that torrential downpour have resulted in optimal growing conditions for fungus. Yep, folks, there is indeed a fungus among us! Check out this giant mushroom:
I took these photos on the grassy slope that borders our museum parking lot:
Several people have told me that these are "giant puffball" mushrooms, but I'm not sure exactly what kind they are. Honestly, I'm not an expert on mushrooms! But, as far as general information goes: fungi are a group of organisms that get their nutrients by absorption--most are decomposers, though some are parasitic. They are not classified as plants because they lack chlorophyll--plants use chlorophyll to harness sunlight energy to make food in their own bodies using photosynthesis. The part we see as a "mushroom" above ground is the reproductive structure of the fungal body--it produces spores. The vegetative part of the fungal body is made up of tiny tube-like structures called "hyphae" that form an underground mat called a "mycelium."
Anyway, hope you enjoy the photos....I'll have more images for you in two weeks.