Funguses are groups of unicellular, multicellular or syncytial spore-generating life form feeding on organic matter. Scientists have yet again solved another puzzle which has been going on for decades, regarding the sensitive strands of shiny ice burst through decomposing tree branches, similar to the hair on our heads.
The strands are named “hair ice” which is only visible when cold-tolerant fungi are present. Additionally, scientists now understand the way the fungi forms the hair ice and how it grows. Alfred Wegener, who is well known for his continental drift theory was the first to discover and study hair ice in the year 1918. His first assumption was that was that the ice was formed because of the existence of mycelium in the area., which is the root of the fungus that live on rotting wood and extracts the nutrients, later forming a pale, white, cobweb-like coating. Moreover, after 90 years researchers finally found evidence that the fungal roots were important precursors to hair ice. They also found out, after treating the mycelium covered wood with a fungicide or putting it a bit in scalding water that the hair does not grow.
A co-author of the study and professor emeritus at the Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Bern in Switzerland named Christian Matzler said in a statement, “The same amount of ice is produced on wood with or without fungal activity, but without this activity, the ice forms a curst like structure.”
The fungus helps the ice to develop into thin hair with diameters of just 0.01 millimeters and helps to keep them in shape for hours even with the temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius).
This late discovery as explained by the researchers is because of the hair ice’s ephemeral nature and northern range. The hair ice grows at latitudes between 45 and 55 degrees north across countries such as Canada, France, Germany, India, Ireland, the Netherlands, Russia, Scotland, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, United States and Wales.
A biologist at Wiedtal-Gymnasium in Neustadt, Germany said “Hair ice grows mostly during the night and melts again when the sun rises,” Matzler states the beauty of the ice hair, but says that it fades away soon as the weather gets warmer. The researchers after examining the melted hair ice found the presence of organic compounds lignin and tannin, which are also the elements found in the root of the hair ice.
The Fungus also has the ability to act as a hairspray by shaping the sensitive hair ice and keeping them in place. The hair ice is also influenced by the formation of the wood from which it is formed.