Monday, August 12, 2013

City Science Kids Reporting from the Woods of Walden Pond!

We visited a famous pond called Walden Pond in Concord, MA yesterday. An American writer and naturalist named Henry David Thoreau once lived in the woods around the pond, in a tiny house he built himself. As you can imagine, there is lots of science happening here! Including this:
From our past posts and episode about mushrooms, you might think this is some kind of fungus. But it's really a plant called Indian pipe, also known as ghost plant or corpse plant. It's extremely unusual because it has no chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a molecule that makes plants green. It's also what allows them to absorb sunlight, which gets turned into the nutrients that plants "eat" (photosynthesis). As you can see, Indian pipe is white; that's because has no chlorophyll. So, it has to "eat" another way. And actually like some mushrooms, it "eats" nutrients from decaying plants. Or it attaches itself to a fungus, like a this knocked-over and somewhat nibbled Russula, which we also found on our walk:

This mushroom has a special relationship with trees like birches and pines (see all the pine needles under it?)—it "eats" nutrients the tree provides. But in return, the mushroom's mycelia extend the tree's roots, which makes them able to get water and food they wouldn't otherwise be able to reach. The mushroom and the tree have a symbiotic relationship—they help each other. When the Indian pipe attaches to the mushroom, it is actually eating from both the mushroom and the tree. It gives nothing back to either one of them. It is a parasite.

What wacky things have you found growing this summer? Write in to the comments section and let us know!

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