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DALY: Recent rainfall has yielded a bumper crop of mushrooms

Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

Many homeowners have observed an increased number of mushrooms appearing in their lawns and gardens. The recent rainfall and warm temperatures have provided a favorable environment for their growth. Most do not cause any harm, although some people are annoyed by their presence. Many facts and fallacies exist regarding the nature of mushrooms.

Mushrooms are the visible reproductive structures of certain species of fungi that live in the soil. Puffballs, toadstools and stinkhorns are all types of mushrooms. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are small and barely noticeable while others can be quite large. The fungi exist in the soil where they have a threadlike structure called mycelia and are seldom visible. As they age, they form spores, which are analogous to seeds in plants, that are released into the environment. Mushrooms are different from plants because they do not have chlorophyll, the chemical which helps convert sunlight into sugars, and therefore, they can grow without sunshine. Most do not pose any harm to lawns or garden plants.

The fungi play an important role in the decay process of organic matter, aiding in the breakdown of logs, leaves, stems and other organic debris. This recycles nutrients needed for plant growth back to the soil. Some fungi form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of certain plant species where they help improve the plant’s ability to absorb vital nutrients and water. Mushrooms provide food and shelter to a multitude of insects.

Many people are interested in harvesting mushrooms for food. However, numerous species are poisonous and can cause serious illness or death, if eaten. Since many of the edible mushrooms closely resemble poisonous species, you should never, under any circumstance eat wild mushrooms. Every year, people die from consuming toxic wild mushrooms they mistakenly believed were edible. There have even been cases of people who are experts on mushrooms misidentifying them and being poisoned after consuming them. Instead, buy mushrooms from stores, which are safe for consumption.

Some people are annoyed by the presence of mushrooms in their yards and inquire into how to get rid of them. Often they are concerned about the possibility of pets and children consuming poisonous species. Since the spores are naturally present in the environment, nothing can be done to prevent mushrooms from emerging from the soil. There are no chemical fungicides available that will prevent their growth. You can dig them out for disposal or mow them down if they are growing in your lawn. Remember, just removing the mushrooms will not stop more from appearing since the underground fungal structures continue to live and the spores are everywhere.

Mushrooms are fascinating organisms and are a part of an important ecological process. If you would like to learn more about mushrooms, visit the website of the Mushroom Club of Georgia at www.gamushroomclub.org.

Timothy Daly is Agricultural and Natural Resource Agent with the Gwinnett County Cooperative Extension. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.