Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra
Corresponding with the arrival of gradually warmer temperatures at the end of the winter season, the appearance of Ova paschalis fruiting bodies is a curious phenomenon of the spring season in many parts of the United States.
O. paschalis var. arborea appears close to the branch tips, suspended by loop-like structures.
This disease generally forms on woody plants but otherwise does not appear to be host-specific. It may appear on evergreens…
…or deciduous species.
Small shrubs and trees – particularly those growing in open spaces where no larger woody plants are nearby – may be heavily infected.
On larger trees, the fruiting bodies tend to form primarily on the lowest branches, seldom appearing more than 6 or 7 feet above ground level, possibly indicating that the spores are soil-borne.
There is another variant, O. paschalis var. terrestris, which forms directly on the ground. Both types appear suddenly, with no symptoms of infection visible prior to their development. But unlike O. paschalis var. arborea, which typically appears in mid- to late March and remains visible for several weeks, O. paschalis var. terrestris commonly appears and disappears within a few hours. It occasionally forms on expanses of turfgrass but is usually found in sheltered places.
Scientists researching this phenomenon have reported observing rabbits (Order Lagomorpha) in the area of these fruiting bodies.
Despite much historical evidence of these sightings, however, no definitive connection has yet been made.
It is evident upon close inspection that these fruiting bodies have a hard, remarkably plastic-like shell with a distinct seam.
When opened, the structures of O. paschalis var. arborea typically appear to be empty, while those of O. paschalis var. terrestris often contain large spores that may be edible or ornamental.
While this disease forms exclusively in landscape settings, particularly close to homes, and tends to reappear year after year in the same place, it does not seem to have any detrimental effects to plants or people (except in the case of ingesting too many of the edible spores). And, unlike the phosphorescent spores of that other seasonal phenomenon, Lux noel, which outlines woody plants and structures around midwinter and often lingers for many weeks or months after its noctural glow is extinguished, Ova paschalis usually disappears completely by the end of April, so no control measures are necessary. In fact, many welcome the colorful fruiting bodies for their ornamental value.
All of the photographs accompanying this bulletin were taken in Bucks Country, Pennsylvania. Reports of this phenomenon occurring in other areas are welcomed by the writer.