Garden Detective

Stinkhorn fungus lives up to its name

Garden Detective: What’s this weird brown thing growing in Folsom? It’s a stinkhorn fungus and lives up to its name.
Garden Detective: What’s this weird brown thing growing in Folsom? It’s a stinkhorn fungus and lives up to its name.

Experts tackle readers’ garden questions.

Q: I found a strange growth in my backyard. Does anyone know what it could be?

Janet Ingold, Folsom

Sacramento County Master Gardener Cathryn Rakich: That strange growth comes with an equally strange, yet fitting name: Stinkhorn fungus (Phallus impudicus). When the fungus first emerges from the soil, its tip is covered with a slimy, gooey, olive-green gleba (a mass of spores) that emits what is considered an extremely unpleasant odor. Some say it smells like rotting meat. Others compare it to excrement.

The foul-smelling gleba attracts flies and other insects, which eat the spores. Some of the spores stick to the feet and legs of the insects, which then spread the spores over large areas when they move from one location to another.

Beneath the gleba is a honeycomb-like structure, which is what most home gardeners come across after the insects have eaten away all the spores.

The stinkhorn fungus emerges from an underground egg-like structure, usually in the early morning hours, and thrives in damp decomposing wood mulch. The best method for eliminating the stinkhorn from the yard is to dig it up or handpick it out.

For more information on nuisance fungi, check out the University of California, Integrated Pest Management, Pest Note 74100, available free online at ipm.ucanr.edu.

Cathryn Rakich is a UC Cooperative Extension master gardener for Sacramento County.

Garden questions?

Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h&g@sacbee.com. Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:

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