So have you ever been walking in the woods and found one or more of these? When I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2008 I remember noticing a few on the forest floor one day in June and stopping to admire and photograph them. Such a little work of art! I had learned about them years ago but hadn’t seen any in a long time.
They are a kind of fungus called earthstars and can be found in hardwood and coniferous forests around the world. There are many species and many names, including some common names like collared earthstar, saucered earthstar, and weather earthstar.
They are called the weather earthstar because depending on the weather, they move! When it rains, the 4-12 rays unfurl from the middle part, opening like a flower. When it is dry, the arms close back up into a small ball. They can be almost 5 inches across from tip to tip and vary in color. If you find one that is curled up and dry, try pouring some water on it and watch what happens.
Earthstars have 3 layers and a middle ball-like part that is filled with spores. When the wind blows or a drop of water hits just right, the spores are spread throughout the forest. They are related to puffballs…. remember those? When I was a kid and found one in the forest, I thought it was such fun to stomp on it and send the “smoke” pouring out.
Maybe you’ll find one next time you’re out and about and being observant. If you do, stop to look at it closely. It really is a miniature work of art!