We have many old trees on our property. One of my chores is to pick up the fallen sticks. This isn’t as boring as it sounds. Sticks have many tenants on board as they die and fall back to earth.
Gravity alone does not purge trees of their dead branches. Other forces are also at work.
Dead wood is dead weight, but not usually heavy enough on its own to break off of the tree.
Fungal spores are airborne specks that land on everything. If there is enough moisture and nutrients, these spores sprout and grow to become mushrooms and bracket fungi.
The most abundant passengers I find on the downed sticks during the winter months are jelly ears/ Auricularia auricula-judae.
These brown, ear-shaped forms are cold and rubbery on the outside and slimy on the inside. The top side acts like a cup to hold rain until it can be absorbed.
The ears grow in clusters and get large and heavy by winter from the fall rains.
I try to remember to wear gloves as I pick up sticks, so as not to get the jelly from an ear on my hands.
Bigger ears and more ears mean more weight. That is what brings the dead branches down.
Do not blame the ears. The jelly ears and gravity are just doing their jobs to bring down the wood to be recycled back into the soil.
These are edible, but eating an ear does not appeal to me. How about you?