Edible and poisonous fungi grow in your yard WILD MUSHROOMS

By Jeff Hoover

Ohio certified volunteer naturalist

The wet weather this fall has caused mushrooms to pop up all over the Mahoning Valley. While plantlike at first glance, mushrooms are members of the fungi kingdom. Unlike green plants, they cannot make their own food and rely on decomposing organic matter.

Most of the mushrooms Most of the mushrooms you find growing in forests, fields or yards are actually beneficial fungi. They feed on decomposing organic matter that enriches the soil for younger plants.

Some woodland mushrooms help tree roots grow and absorb nutrients. Scientists call these mycorrhizal mushrooms.

However, other mushrooms are parasites that obtain nutrients by breaking down living organisms. The part of the mushrooms you see growing is the fruiting body which produces spores for reproduction. It consists of a stem or stalk rising above ground and then the familiar domed cap.

Some mushrooms species also have a ring or cup on their stem. You never see most of the mushroom. It consists of a network of underground fibers called mycelium.

In Ohio, the mushroom season begins in late April with the appearance of morel mushrooms and continues until late October. The season can be longer or shorter, and the amount depends on the weather. Mushrooms grow most plentiful in wet, humid conditions like we are currently experiencing this fall.

Most of the mushrooms you find in your yard or woodland are the helpful mushrooms. Some familiar examples include button mushrooms, puffballs and meadow mushrooms.

A few such as sulfur and oyster mushrooms growing on fallen logs are even the mycorrhizal mushrooms that help trees. However, they can be unsightly and give off unpleasant odors. An exception is the fairy ring which harms living grass. You can identify a fairy ring as a circle of darker green grass surrounding a center of dead grass. Often mushrooms appear in the center of dead grass.

Mushrooms in lawns are a big question at our clinic this fall. Those who wish to remove mushrooms have a few options. As the weather gets cold and drier, they will go away on their own. The least invasive is to simply break off or mow the mushrooms; however, this is temporary as long as there is a food source available for them. Keeping the turf healthy will reduce the likelihood of mushrooms. This means maintaining the pH and essential nutrients at adequate levels. Improving drainage, dethatching and aeration practices may be helpful if the problem is substantial.

So are the mushrooms you find growing in the wild edible or poisonous? The answer is, both grow in your yard, and it is extremely difficult to tell them apart. Over the years many mushroom hunters have created a series of guidelines to aid in identification, but many are either partially true, false, or even dangerous.

The only way to safely identify a mushroom is having an expert called a mycologist identify it, using a reliable field guide written by a mycologist, or by studying mycology yourself.

NEVER eat a wild mushroom that has not been properly identified. Even experienced mushroom hunters should only pick those varieties they can identify and know are safe.

If you are interested in growing mushrooms of your own, home-growing kits are available. Better yet, try one of our local mushroom farms – they grow great stuff! You can find them at http://30milemealms.org/

For details on wild mushrooms with pictures, see OSU Extension’s newest fact sheet at: go.osu.edu/mushrooms

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