Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Barometer Earthstar

Naturalist extraordinaire George Ellison wrote of the barometer earthstar (which was new to me) in his column this week:
“There is a category of puffballs known as earthstars. These have a hard outer membrane that peels back as the earthstar ripens and reveals a puffball-like inner core. (These star-like fruiting structures are also quite beautiful in regard to color and conformation.) Most earthstars then disperse their spores like other puffballs. But one species called the barometer earthstar (Astreus hygometricus) has devised an ingenious mechanism whereby full spore dispersal is obtained.
“As the common name indicates, the outer covering of the barometer earthstar is sensitive to meteorological conditions. During wet weather the outer covering remains open and some spores are no doubt dispersed in the normal puffball manner. But during dry weather the outer covering contracts and closes in on top of the inner core thereby squeezing out any spores that remain.
“Field guides usually indicate that most earthstars appear in late summer or fall. For whatever reason, I spot them more frequently in early or late winter during rainy periods when the fruiting structures are fully open. Perhaps I don’t observe them at other times because of leaf litter.
Having read this, I will now be looking for barometer earthstar…and I will also be considering how one could adapt the principle of the barometer earthstar to an architectural project. Where’s Frank Lloyd Wright when you need him?

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