Typically, we are dealing with insects and other animals in our "Gardening Friends and Foes" thread. However, Bird's Nest Fungi commonly have people incorrectly blaming insects for "eggs" found on plants and the exteriors of buildings. But these "eggs" are actually this fungi's peridioles - a mass of tiny spores and are harmless to plants. That's good news to gardeners. In fact, these fungi are almost all good news. Almost.
Bird's Nest Fungi are actually a whole family of fungi called Nidulariaceae in the order Agaricales. The name is based upon the word "nidulus" which is latin for "little nest". There are several different genera that can be found in Florida. Different species of Cyathus are what I commonly find in my own landscape. I am unable to tell the different species apart.
By looking at Bird's Nest Fungi, it is easy to that they are accurately named. Their body, a structure called the peridium, looks like a small bowl-shaped nest. Inside the nest are several small black, egg shaped peridioles. The appearance is just like a bird's nest.
This fungus is not there to eat your plants. That is.... it is not there to eat your LIVING plants. Like other fungi, they are there for the dead and decomposing. They are most commonly found on mulch and other denser decomposing plant material. Gardeners who mulch their yards are highly likely to find these fungi at some point or another. While they can be found all year, they are more prevalent in the rainy months of July-October. Their reproduction relies heavily on rain to help with dispersal of their spores.
This is where it gets pretty cool. Like I said, their reproduction relies on rain. Here's why. The mass of spores waits inside the nest for the rain to come. When a rain drop hits the bowl, it causes the peridiole to eject into the air. A tiny cord, called the Funicular Cord, stretches out with a sticky hapteron on the other end. As the peridiole travels through the air, the sticky hapteron will try and stick to anything it can. This is commonly plants nearby or even the sides of houses and other structures. The peridiole can remain here until the conditions are right for it to begin growing into another fungi.
As a decomposer, this fungus brings benefits to the garden by helping larger pieces of plant material break down quicker. The fungi will absorb the nutrients that it gains from the plant material. These fungi have a relatively short life span. Once it dies, these nutrients are easily added into the soil where the fungi once were. Basically, the fungi are taking nutrients from plant material that would take years to break down and adding them to the soil much quicker through their own short life span.
Therefore, Bird's Nest Fungi are Gardening Friends. The only drawback to these fungi are the appearance of their peridioles on the sides of houses and other buildings. While I do not find them particularly drawing too much unwanted attention, there are gardeners who do not like these small black egg-like specks all over their building's exterior. To solve this, a garden hose with pressure or even a pressure washer can remove them with ease.
For more information check out the University of Florida's website for their take on Bird's Nest Fungi. You can also find a pretty cool video on their website showing just how the reproductions process works. Check it out by CLICKING HERE