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Rain increases mushroom growth

By By Steve Strong / area horticulture extension agent
Nov. 6, 2002
Fungus is among us this November as unstoppable rains create the perfect growing conditions for mushrooms.
Any home lawn, wooded lot or cow pasture with an abundance of organic matter is subject to invasion by these mysteries of the plant kingdom, most of which are seldom appreciated and often misunderstood.
Ancient Greeks believed that mushrooms came from the lightning bolts of Zeus, because they appeared shortly after rains and seemed to reproduce from out of nowhere. Mushrooms were later dubbed "fairy rings" by folks during the Middle Ages who thought the "little people" used the toadstools for midnight dancing and performing magic rituals.
Cultures in the New World discovered the hallucinogenic properties of many species, naming them "food of the gods" and bestowing them with supernatural powers.
Though less mystery surrounds the world of mycology than in earlier times, the scientific study of mushrooms has revealed that some species contain dangerous toxins that can be deadly, while many types are in fact quite edible.
Mushrooms have been considered gourmet food since the days of the Roman Empire, especially species such as truffles, boletes, chanterelles, and morels which all grow wild in North America.
While mushrooms are not considered true plants because they lack chlorophyll, many species of "green-leaved" higher plants could not thrive without the lowly fungi and depend on them in a "symbiotic" relationship of nutrient exchange.
Fungi are mostly "decay" organisms, known as saprophytes, living off of dead or dying organic matter that's why mushrooms frequently appear near rotten logs and leaf debris. The mushroom shape most folks are familiar with is actually a reproductive structure that allows fungi to elevate and cast their spores (like fertile seeds), while the vegetative mycelia (singular mycelium) grows beneath in the soil layer like a root system.
Mushrooms are most easily identified by their above ground portions, and are usually composed of a cap, gills and stalk. Caps may be convex, bell-shaped, flat or reversed in a sunken form resembling an inside-out umbrella, and the presence of cottony patches or hairs may provide further evidence of which type you've found.
Some have names that suggest the type of mushroom, such as the edible "coral" type mimicking an ocean reef or the frilly-gilly "oyster" species. While gills are present on most of the different capped mushrooms, they may not be visible on some species like "puffballs," and may look more like sponges on the underside of the boletes types.
Strangely, mushrooms are also identified by "spore print," which is similar to a fingerprint in the world of fungi. Patterns may exist in the growing habit that provide an interesting nickname, like the Polypore variety that grows locally on dead hardwood trees and has a multi-zoned reddish brown and gray coloration that gives it the obvious moniker "Turkey Tail" polypore (it is edible, too).
Not all mushrooms are as interesting of course as the turkey tail or as welcome in the home environment. Take stinkhorns, for example, which pop up regularly in hardwood mulched flowerbeds during the summer months. This species and many others give off a foul odor and probably taste as bad as they smell.
The bad news is that no chemical exists to control mushroom growth or to effectively treat the soil to kill the underground mycelia either. Just be careful as with any unfamiliar plant material, and keep a close eye on small children playing in areas where mushrooms grow.
It is a futile effort to scoop up every mushroom cap in the lawn every time they sprout out, because they will likely have already dispersed their spores while you were still napping. The primary fungal growth is in the soil where you can't touch it anyway, so don't be upset, go with the flow, and just have fungi.