Strange fluted orange trumpets sprouted in the fallen leaves and wood chips under our maple tree. They seemed to come out of nowhere, mystery mushrooms that “bloomed” overnight.
My first thought? They must be chanterelles (and delicious). But on closer inspection, I soon realized they were something else, most likely jack-o-lantern mushrooms (and deadly). That’s when I went hunting for a shovel to dig up and discard these alien invaders before our dog could inspect them.
I’m not the only gardener with this “what is it” dilemma. Mushrooms seem to be sprouting everywhere this fall.
“My friend and I believe we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of mushrooms growing in the lawns in East Sacramento and River Park,” reported reader Martha Bleshman. Why now, she wondered.
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It’s a combination of weather and leftover effects from the drought, say experts.
“We did get a number of calls (about mushrooms) this past spring due to heavy rain and dying trees with rotting roots,” said Judy McClure, Sacramento County master gardener coordinator for the University of California Cooperative Extension. “A lot of people reported mulch sprouting mushrooms. With recent rains, we’re seeing those same conditions. It makes sense that the spores are activated again.”
Right now, mushrooms have what they need to be plentiful: Cool, moist days and decaying organic material such as rotting roots under lawn.
“Plants that died in the drought and added mulch; that’s perfect (food) for mushrooms,” McClure said.
California’s prolonged drought killed countless trees and shrubs. Their old roots become dinner for mushrooms and other fungi. Part of nature’s decomposition process, mushrooms break down those rotting remnants and return their nutrients to the soil.
While many mushrooms are benign (and edible), several are toxic to people and pets. Telling the difference can be problematic, to say the least.
Reader Rebecca Hamilton discovered strange mushrooms growing in her East Sacramento backyard. “Caught our 3-month-old puppy wandering near them,” she added. Is the puppy in danger?
The dog should be OK, but her trees may be threatened, according to longtime UC Davis mushroom expert Mike Davis, co-author of “Field Guide to Mushrooms of Western North America.”
Davis identified Hamilton’s fungi as Armillaria mellea, the honey mushroom; nicknamed for its color, not its taste.
According to Davis, “She has or had a tree near the mushrooms. This species kills trees, although it may take some time.”
Honey mushroom is considered edible but bitter when fresh. (Dogs usually leave it alone.) What’s interesting about this mushroom is it’s found almost exclusively on the East Coast – plus Northern California. (No one knows how it ended up here.) That’s one more wrinkle to tricky mushroom identification.
“It’s very difficult to identify mushrooms from photos alone,” noted McClure. “Whatever it is or wherever you find them, our advice is the same: Don’t eat them! Pick them up or rake them up and dispose of them. Don’t experiment with them. And if your dog eats mushrooms, call the vet.”