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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/207

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193
FUNGI.

in roseate and star-like forms—earth-stars, beautiful as they are curious, and offering a singularly perfect mechanism for the dispersal of the spores. Here is an earth-star (Fig. 5) whose peridium consists of three coats—two outer, strong and leathery, and one inner, delicate, silk-like. The whole structure is developed as a smooth white ball beneath the soil. But, once the spores are ripe, the outermost peridium splits open at the top, its lobes spring backward and outward, giving room for the second covering to burst in similar fashion. The lobes of the second, however, by recurving, hoist the entire inner structure out of the ground and up into the air, where the inner peridium, enthroned thus upon springing arches, groined by no human hand, opens at tip a purse-like mouth, and suffers the spores slowly to escape, to sail on unknown journeys with the passing breeze.

We have space left but sufficient to mention the fruiting of the morel. Here we have on the outer upper side of the structure a layer of rather large elongate cells, quite similar to those on the mushroom gills; but, instead of abstricted spores on the outside of the supporting cells, we find each of the latter a fruit-case in which are lodged eight elliptical sporules arranged in a row, formed freely—that is, each entirely independent of the other and of the cell-wall that incloses all. But this method of fruiting brings us in sight of the microscopic and parasitic world of fungi, subject of our next chapter. Here, then, we well might rest; and yet, ere toadstools, mushrooms, and puffers vanish entirely from our thought, it were well to note, if but for a moment, the various titles these organisms wear. The names by which natural objects are known contain often in primary significance something of historic epitome; so, in the present case, we may discover the manner in which the object named first attracted human attention: the word itself is the record. Thus it appears that the word fungus, although coming to us from the Latin, is nevertheless of Greek origin, and is the same word as that we have anglicized in sponge; so that, according to the earliest record we have, the sponges of the sea and the fungi (puff-balls?) of the land were considered kin. Our Teutonic ancestors seem to have arrived at the same conclusion; and to this day, for a German, Schwamm is either a sponge or a fungus, as you like it. Nor less interesting is the etymology of our other common names for such plants. Toadstool is sufficiently plain, prosaic, and suggestive; mushroom would seem to be the English adaptation of a French word, mousseron (something growing in or among moss), evidently pronounced by Englishmen long before spelled, and evincing the fact that the quick French wit was first to discover the edible qualities of this as of so many other delicacies.