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Fungal Databaser

Registered: 12/05/08
Posts: 8,089
Loc: Seattle Flag
Last seen: 3 years, 10 months
Wet season makes for bumper crop of fungi, and it ain't pretty....[DE]
    #11419850 - 11/09/09 05:35 PM (8 years, 10 months ago)

Nov. 9th, 2009 - Delaware Online

Thanks to a wet fall, the rusts, the slime molds and the smuts are back, along with weird-looking mushrooms that seem to appear overnight.

These fungi and their relatives have been here all along -- often thriving just beneath the soil -- but in the fall, given the right conditions, there is enough biomass to produce the "fruiting bodies" we can see.

In dry years they won't produce "fruit," said Nancy Gregory, a plant diagnostician with the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Service. But this year, it's been so wet that many fungi have produced fruit twice -- once in the early summer and again this fall, she said.

"It has been a banner year," she said.

Fungi don't eat like animals, nor do they manufacture food like plants. Instead, they absorb nutrients from their environment.

"In the ecosystem, they are the decomposers," Gregory said. "They break down all that plant material."

That's why slime molds -- a primitive relative of fungi -- appear on mulch.
They can show up on grass, too, Gregory said, and the best cure is to rake them up.

The candle-like "stinkhorns" also will appear suddenly, she said. They often give off a powerful smell that attracts flies. The flies help spread the spores that allow stinkhorns to reproduce, she said. Sometimes fungi even work in cooperation with plants.

And sometimes they can be valuable, like corn smut. It disfigures corn, but in some cultures it is considered a delicacy that can be eaten, Gregory said. It must be harvested early to be tasty, Gregory added.

But sometimes fungi can be bad, like the types that cause root rot or other plant diseases, said Bob Mulrooney, extension plant pathologist at the University of Delaware.

A big concern is when fungi show up around children and pets, he said, noting if you're not an expert you should stay away. Mulrooney said in recent weeks he had a mushroom come into the lab that a dog had eaten. The dog died. Wild mushrooms aren't a plant, they are classified with plants in the VPI claims list.

"Almost all plant poisonings in pets can be prevented, but prevention depends on knowledge, thus it is important for pet owners to become familiar with which items can be toxic if ingested," said Dr. Carol McConnell, vice president and chief veterinary medical officer for VPI.

"Prevention is a simple matter of keeping these hazards out of a pet's environment. To avoid plant poisonings, make sure that a new pet is introduced to a backyard free of sago palms, wild mushrooms or other toxic plants."

The mushrooms most responsible for poisoning pets are the common "backyard" variety. These often grow in grassy places, especially after a heavy rain, and contain toxic components that disrupt the functioning of the digestive tract and liver. If ingested, mushrooms can cause salivation, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea and liver failure.

The best way to prevent an accidental ingestion is to regularly scan a yard or any other grassy area a pet may occupy, and pull up wild mushrooms when they appear, according to VPI.

The top time for mushroom ingestion claims is late summer and fall.
Peggy Soash, who works with the Delaware Master Gardener Helpline, said the line has received a few calls about fungi this fall.

Callers are told not to eat the mushrooms and, as for control, "there's really no treatment," Soash said. "It's really just rake them up and throw them away."
Fungi and slime molds can raise concerns when they show up in mulch -- particularly in mulch used at day care centers, Mulrooney said.

Typically, he said, day care center staff remove the fungi or mold from outdoor play areas.

The other problem area is when harmful varieties of fungi show up around good plants, shrubs and trees, he said.

"This fall, it's been so wet," he said. But in a dry year, the fungi are still there. "There are a lot of them out there," he said. "We just don't see them because conditions aren't right."

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