Alright, you have divined it, the structures shown above are really not birds’ nests and the structures in the cups are not birds’ eggs. Are they katydid eggs? No, too small and not quite the right shape. How about the shotgun fungus (Sphaerobolus)?
No, the periodoles (spore casings) of Sphaerobolus forcibly shoot out a dark glebal mass that sticks to plants, sidings, car exteriors, or on wherever else they land – up to several meters away. Are the little discs small flying saucers enclosed in opened, partially opened, and still closed mother ships? Hmm…
Or, is this an example of birds-nest fungi, slyly unearthed by Secrest Arboretum education program director Paul Snyder at yesterday’s Herbaceous Plant School at the OSU Wooster Campus. Yes. Paul found these fungal peridia (that look like nests) holding the peridioles (that look like eggs). The peridia (Singluar: peridium) are the fungal fruiting bodies of birds-nest fungi, and they were living in organic matter, in this case, mulch.
These peridia act as “splash cups” for water drops that propel the peridoles, full of microscopic spores, to heights of up to a meter, though in this case the peridiole found a sophora leaf that it wrapped around with help of its funicular cord.
Birds-nest fungi are, naturally, in the Kingdom Fungi. Their phylum is the Basidiomycota, so they are club fungi, related to mushrooms and rust and smut fungi, and they are the agaric class and order. Their family is the Nidulariaceae (nidulus means “small nest”). There are five genera: Cruciblum, Cyathus, Mycocalia, Nidula, Nidularia.
Take a look again and note the variably closed, partially open cover of the spaceship (oh no, I am revealing their true nature), and the open peridoles. Also note the additional photo of another birds-nest fungus below that I took a few years ago amidst mosses on a bark substrate. The genus in that case was probably Cyathus due to the trumpet shape of the peridole.
As to the identity of the genus of the Secrest example from yesterday, it is as yet unknown. To me. Perhaps I could check Hangar 18 at Wright-Pat…