National Geographic : 2000 Aug
HUGE AND DIVERSE, the fungus king dom holds many remarkable sights but is largely unexplored. A walk in the woods reveals fungus fruiting bodies, called mush rooms, sprouting from soil and tree trunks. Some species hold the promise of "biopulp ing": They can decompose wood chips without the use of toxic chemicals. Diligent searchers might come across the lilliputian world of Crucibulum (below), which produces spore cases resembling eggs in baskets that Crucibulum laeve, each basket .25 in across measure a quarter of an inch across and look as if they are ready for gathering. Most fungi are unseen varieties living in soil. There in their microscopic workshops they play a crucial role-using enzymes to break down organic compounds into nutri ents for themselves, and inadvertently for plants and trees. A vividly colored fungus (left) is a thorough recycler, helping to crumble a forest log into compost. White-egg bird's nest fungi cradle tiny spore packets that scatter when splashed by raindrops.