Because the Civic Garden Center hosts the OSU Extension Horticulture Helpline (513-221-TREE, email@example.com Leave questions anytime, or talk to a volunteer M, W, F 10-2), gardeners occasionally call about sudden proliferations of strange growths in their yards. The birdnest fungus, as pictured below, is the subject of a few calls every year. A saprotroph, this organism feeds on dead plants and should be no cause for concern if found in the garden.
At the Civic Garden Center, I recently noticed several pale, star-shaped (hence the name earthstar) growths scattered around beneath the purple European beech. They only became apparent when the outer portion split apart, the pointed segments curling back to reveal the dome-shaped spore sac. Pale at first, the spore sac turns brown and opens a spout at the top. Any pressure on the body of the spore sac will send a plume of spores out of that spout. Like the birdnest fungus, earthstar fungi are saprotrophic, and also pose no threat to the plants in the garden.