Stars on Earth

Never a good idea to drive too long without stepping out and stretching, right? Recently i wandered through some red sandy trails organized by a coalition of hikers, mountain bikers and horse folk that provided a welcome homecoming to earth after many hours encased in my not-so-gleaming metal.

And nested on the ground in front of me, near the top of the first ridge, a treasure, a mystery, a goad to study up on everything from mythology to mycology. Earth Star, the voice in my head clamored, like a kid in school jumping up and down with a hand in the air.

So little i knew, though, beyond that echoing name. Earth stars can be either Geastrum fungi or Astraeus, very different critters though with similar outer appearances and life strategies. Both have many more species than long suspected. The original Astraeus were all considered hygrometricus, the barometer earth star, famous for opening their rays when wet, then curling back up over the spore-bearing stomach. The Geastrum typically open once and stay that way. As the fungi split open, the rays can push these fruiting bodies up high enough to break free of their underground mycelia, allowing them to wander the earth. They may go in search of a non-fungal partner, since some of them connect in an ectomycorrhizal relationship with living plants, performing interesting ecological tasks such as dune stabilization.

Astraea, a Greek goddess who got fed up with the many ways people were ruining the planet, spends her days now as the constellation Virgo, far from our chaos. To understand her best, you should remember that virgins were women who didn’t need anyone else, and the word is associated with strength, force, skill. The bits of her still scattered across the earth thrive with their intriguing adaptation for movement. Let these stars on earth move your imagination too–to adapt, to thrive.

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