Archive for Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Green Thumb

June 28, 2007

Beautiful flowers, luscious growth, delicate foliage, emerald-green grass and some really odd growth is appearing overnight. This period of warm, wet weather has given rise to the occurrence of fungus in our flowerbeds, lawns, trees and mulched areas. The common fruition of these fungi is mushrooms. They are relatively harmless to plants, and by contact, harmless to humans or animals.

The first thing that must be said is they are not -- repeat, not -- edible. Some actually may be, but until you are 100 percent sure and have that analysis confirmed by an expert, they are inedible. Even if edible, they may taste like they are not. Toadstool is just a common name for mushroom and certainly does not refer to the edibility. Safe, edible mushrooms can be bought at the store.

There are more than 700 species of mushrooms in Kansas. Good reference books such as "A Guide to Kansas Mushrooms," by Bruce Horn, Richard Kay and Dean Abel, will describe and picture 150 of the more common ones. Many are very unusual. Some are small and spreading to large and attractive. Others are mundane gray or an almost crimson red. Yet others are flat and fanlike or feature spikes that smell really bad. Fungi are everywhere. It is the "decay" we often quote. Cut down a dead tree, dig an old log, turn some mulch, and you may find fine white webs. These are the actual fungi. This is critical to the process of breaking down organic matter. Mushrooms are the fruit of this fungus. Mushrooms are to fungus as tomatoes are to tomato plants.

Patience is the best control measure. Wait until the rain stops and the sun dries them out. Applied chemicals will not reach the source as it is well below the soil surface. You can rake them down or pick them off sooner to avoid pet or children's curiosity. With children, educate them, show them, tell them what you are doing and why. Yours may not be the only yard in which they find curious growth. If collected, they are a nutritious addition to a compost pile only.

Turf areas of a yard, park or golf course may experience an occurrence of so-called "fairy rings." These are not due to any little people's dance or ceremony, but fungus. They are caused by the outward growth of the fungus, producing a matlike structure. As the mat enlarges, additional nitrogen, due to the decay, is available at the edge. This is the brighter green we see as the ring, while the mat in the center may produce a byproduct that is harmful to the turf, or be so dense as to inhibit moisture penetration to the soil. This is the dead turf seen in the center.

Some growth in the turf shows "puff balls." These look like golf balls on steroids sitting on a 4-inch tee. These are poisonous. Mow or rake them down to dissuade pets or children. Wash you hands if you handle the mushrooms.

-- Stan Ring is the horticulture program assistant at K-State Research and Extension -- Douglas County. He can be reached at 843-7058 or

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