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In Our Backyard: Those Offensive Stinkhorns

These mushrooms are not usually a subject of discussion in polite society. But a friend called me over the other day with "You've got to see this. What is it?"

As you can plainly see, these mushrooms are not usually a subject of discussion in polite society. But a friend called me over the other day with "You've got to see this. What is it?" 

It was a stinkhorn, Ravenel's stinkhorn (Phallus ravenelii) actually, a mushroom that decorates our nicely manicured, mulched areas with its unwanted aroma and appearance around this time of year. It grows on decaying wood and frequently hitches a ride in newly spread mulch. 

There are many different types of mushrooms besides the familiar variety found in the supermarket. The ones in the supermarket are gill mushrooms, producing their spores from the gills on the underside of the cap. Stinkhorns are different. Their spores are in the smelly slime, in this case coating the top of the cap. The foul-smelling slime attracts flies which carry the spores away, spreading the stinkhorn. 

Stinkhorns grow rapidly, often appearing suddenly overnight, as if out of nowhere.  They have a bizarre assortment of unusual shapes, some looking like aliens from outer space.  Not all of them have the distinctive shape of our Ravenel's stinkhorn. 

"Are they edible?" my friend asked. "You can't be serious", I responded. Who would want to have anything to do with such a foul-smelling thing? Well, it turns out that some varieties can be found dried in Chinese markets and are even considered a delicacy by some. I however can't recommend them and furthermore do not recommend eating any fungus that you find in the woods. Properly identifying mushrooms can be tricky, and there are too many stories of experts misidentifying mushrooms and getting sick or worse. 

Mother said to leave the toadstools alone and she knew what she was talking about. They're interesting to look at, but if you don't know what they are, leave them where you found them.

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Sharon Dankwardt January 01, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Anyway to get rid of these stinky beasts? They come back every year in the mulch under the swing set and my son says it's too stinky to play there!
Garry Kessler January 02, 2012 at 04:46 AM
I've heard that in some cases this can be a problem, especially in areas where mulch has been brought in. The most common suggestion is to remove the fungus when it comes up and BEFORE the spores mature. Also removing affected mulch is a good idea. Put the removed materials in a plastic bag and seal it so that spores don't escape. If this doesn't work, you may want to consult your favorite nurseryman regarding more aggressive approaches.
Sharon Dankwardt January 02, 2012 at 12:59 PM
Thanks - I'll give it a try!

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