Earthstar — born from the earth, fallen from the sky
Today I had my first encounter with an earthstar.
It was a long anticipated encounter, as I’ve been reading some curious folklore inspired by the wild star shape of this mushroom. It’s a great reminder of how an organism’s shape can inspire stories, and how tempting it Is to understand an ‘alien’ creature by comparing it to something else — something more familiar.
A star, yes. An English mushroom expert in the 1800s said that earthstars aspire 'occasionally to leave this earth'; inspired by someone who found a specimen 'on the very highest pinnacle of St Pauls' (Cathedral)!’.
There are different kinds of earthstars, and they appear in different stages as they unfold from the ground. And so, somehow, in the 1600s they were recognised as little human figurines:
Earthstars are sensitive to moisture. The “barometer earthstar” opens up when there is plenty of water, but as soon as it gets too dry for them, they fold their star rays back up, closing up to protect themselves. If you’re curious what that looks like, check out this time-lapse.
How different am I to an earthstar? I recognise my own thirst in them. It just manifests differently.
Sources of folklore and illustration:
Badham, C.D. (1863) A Treatise on the Esculent Funguses of'England. Ed. 2. London: Reeve.
Seger, G. (1671), Fungus Anthropomorphos. Miscel- lanea curzosa Medico-physica academiae nature cur- iosum 2: 112-113.