Fungi come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, from the familiar mushrooms to cups, balls and brackets. But these bizarre structures that we’re used to seeing are just the fruiting bodies, which usually only pop up once or twice a year. Like the fruits of a tree, these are temporary, short-lived parts of the larger organism. Their only job is to help the fungus spread.
They do this by releasing microscopic spores, which need to be dispersed in the same way as seeds from a tree and are often spread by the wind. Some fungi fire out their spores like a cannon, launching them into the air. The puffball is a common species well known for its explosive release of spores – when a mature mushroom is compressed by rain, a passing animal or an inquisitive human finger, it puffs out a cloud of spores from a hole in the top.