Beneficial Macro Fungi

Updated: May 21

Saprophytic fungi are generally the unseen natural recyclers of our organic micro-ecosystems, turning dead plant and animal matter into nutrient-rich fertiliser. These macrofungi are one of three major types of fungi called Macroscopic filamentous fungi. They are categorised according to their tendency to produce distinct fruiting bodies. It is this exact feature that differentiates them from moulds.

Below is a great 2 minute YouTube video by Knowledge Seeker that demonstrates what a fruiting body is.

For the enthusiastic viewer, a must watch 6 minute YouTube video by Planet Earth II's Steve Axford that focuses on fungi fruiting bodies.

Unlike pathogenic fungi, macrofungi are harmless to plants and animals. However, if not cleaned off your built surface soon enough, they will be difficult to remove without causing damage including permanent staining.

These saprophytes include artillery, shotgun, bird's nest and stinkhorn fungi, as well as slime mould.

In this blog, I will be talking more about the artillery, shotgun and bird's nest fungi following our exciting find of two of these fungi during one of our recent driveway cleans on Bundock St, West End, QLD.

How do they grow?

To allow for the uptake of nutrients e.g. carbon and nitrogen, by all plants, including themselves, Saprophytic fungi expel enzymes that convert the lignin, cellulose or chitin present within organic matter into simple dissolvable compounds. In other words, these macrofungi convert solid organic matter into a liquid and absorb it, just like a spider does! Eew, creepy! Only, macrofungi are more like herbivores than carnivores.

Sphaerobolus stellatus - "Artillery Fungus or Sphere Thrower"

Perhaps you can guess why this fungus is so named... Absolutely! It's due to the way its spores (contained within a peridiole) are released. Artillery fungus is a wood-decaying fungus that tends to thrive on moist timber or mulch.

In tropical rainforest environments where light is largely blocked by the canopy, Sphaerobolus stellatus propel their spores up to 20 feet towards the light.

In human habitats, fungus spores generally find themselves landing on light coloured or reflective surfaces e.g. house walls, rendered fences, cars.

How does this fungus do this?

Each cup-shaped fruiting body, approximately 1/10" in diameter, retains its dark round peridiole within. The fruiting body fills with water and when enough pressure is built up, the membrane expands and pops sending the spore far into the atmosphere. See them in action in the following 32 second YouTube video by Macrofungi.

Pilobolus - "Shotgun, Cannonball or Hat-thrower Fungus"

Shotgun fungi feed on the manure of large herbivores, particularly that of cows and horses, and not wood!

A black sporangium (cluster of spores) crowns each water-filled sporangiophore (fruiting body).

Spore dispersal is a four-step process:

1. Grazing mammals ingest vegetation that is covered with sticky shotgun fungi spores

2. The sporagia become activated as they pass through the digestive tract

3. Upon animal defecation, the fungi germinate

4. They then project their spores up to 10 feet, it is said, at lightning speed for the sole purpose of landing on and clinging to vegetation that will then be consumed by other herbivores so the whole enterprise can begin again :-)

Two presenters in this amazing 5.5 minute YouTube video by BBC Earth Unplugged demonstrate how Shotgun fungi operate and compare their speed to that of a...shotgun!

Cyathus - "Bird's Nest Fungi"

Like its namesake, this fungus develops a cup or flute shaped peridium (fruiting body) that holds a small group of peridioles, resembling, you guessed it...a bird's nest!

During development, an epiphragm (membrane) seals the fruiting body.

This breaks down at maturity exposing the peridioles that rely on the force of raindrop splashes to become dislodged and launched into the atmosphere.

Once attached by its funiculus (cord), high on a hard surface, each peridiole will release its spores to continue the reproductive process.

Varieties of Cyathus generally found worldwide include:

Cyathus striatus - Fluted bird's nest Cyathus olla - Field bird's nest

Crucibulum laeve - Common / Splash Cup

Cyathus stercoreus - Dung-loving bird's nest bird's nest (found in the UK and USA)

A more comprehensive list is found @

Following is what we found here in Queensland, Australia, located in a quiet, undisturbed Townsville garden...both fascinating and exciting!

Take a closer look...Perhaps you can guess what type of bird's nest fungus it is...

Well done if you guessed Fluted bird's nest!

Information Sources