|See the hyphae? So stringy...|
I immediately ID'd it as a fungal growth, but unlike mold which is totally gross, this was really pretty and didn't smell at all. I really hoped that it was mycorhhizal fungi, so I did some research. Though I'm still not a hundred percent on what it is exactly, I'm hoping that that's what it is. Either way, I welcome it with open arms into my garden soil.
All natural soils have billions of fungal cells, sometimes making up 50-80% of the biomass of soil. Whoa. They are there to decompose the organic matter and release the nutrients that are trapped in the organic stuff back into the soil for use by plants. Mycorrizal fungi in particular create symbiotic relationships with plant roots, onto which they attach themselves, and provide the plant with a high water and nutrient absorption rate since it basically increases the plant's root mass. In return, the plant provides the fungi with carbohydrates since fungi don't have photosynthetic powers. (This is just the quick and simple explanation.)
Pretty cool huh? It's believed that as much as 95% of plants have some sort of mycorrhizal relationship so these little guys are super important.
Ah, nature. You're so wonderful.