Fall seems to bring out the mushrooms. Every year, I have someone ask me the question “Can I eat the mushrooms growing in my yard? I might just sauté them in a pan.”
My response is beyond consistent. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. “Did you hear me?” I said no.
Let me repeat it once more, NO. I love eating mushrooms, but unless you are an expert at fungi identification, please don’t eat the mushrooms in your yard. You may find the most delicious treat ever, but the chances of getting an urban forage gem are slim. It is more likely that the one yard mushroom you choose to make a meal out of will make you wish you had shopped at Publix. Mushrooms can be very poisonous and can kill you. Like the ‘being dead and not living anymore’ kind of kill you.
Mushrooms are plants but do not contain chlorophyll. They are the fruiting bodies of fungi that live below the soil surface. Fungi are a vital part of a healthy soil ecosystem. They help break down dead plants and other organic matter in the soil and provide nutrients for other plants.
Mushrooms usually emerge when rain follows extended dry periods. Dry weather stresses the fungi and when water becomes available, it triggers the reproductive mechanism and mushrooms emerge. These type fungi are most common on hardwood bark mulches, wood chips and lawns where trees have been removed. When trees are removed, much of their root system is left behind to decay. These rotting roots provide an ample source of nutrition for mushrooms. Most of the mushrooms that are in the lawn are completely harmless to the yard and will go away with a little time. If you prefer these nuisance fungi gone immediately, mowing, kicking and golf swing practice are all acceptable methods of removal.
One of the most eye-catching, mulch-inhabiting fungi is a type of slime mold commonly referred to as dog vomit. Fuligo septica, the scientific name for this slime mold typically occurs on mulch. This bright yellow or orange growth usually begins as small areas a few inches across but can rapidly grow up to several feet in diameter. As it dries it fades to brown and tan.
Slime molds do not harm plants and usually dry up within a few days of forming. One of their more curious characteristics is that they are actually able to move two or three feet a day. If their appearance is offensive, scoop them up and add them to the compost pile or throw them away. A water hose will also wash them out.
Another interesting fungus family is the Phallaceae, which includes the mushrooms known as stinkhorns. Most people smell stinkhorns before they see them. While their smell or appearance may be undesirable, stinkhorns are beneficial to the landscape by helping to break down decaying plant material. Stinkhorns do not harm landscape plants or grasses, but the smell is almost unbearable.
An interesting find in the state of Georgia is the gigantic fungus Macrocybe titans and looks like something from outer space. University of Georgia mycologists in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences found one specimen of this gigantic fungus in the lawn of an abandoned Athens home one fall. This species might be the largest mushroom found in the Western Hemisphere. The cap is as big as a trashcan lid.
If someone calls and asks if they can make soup out of this fungal beast, I will suggest supporting the local supermarket instead.
Reach Campbell Vaughn, the UGA Agriculture and Natural Resource agent for Richmond County, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.