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December 20, 2013

Stinkhorn mushrooms beneficial for soil

This week, someone brought in a very smelly mushroom found in their mulch. Normally, calls on these mushrooms begin during spring, but they seem to be everywhere right now.  They are sometimes seen in the grass, but I have only seen them in a mycology class I had at UGA. I called my counterpart, Jake Price, in Lowndes County to verify the mushroom species. He confirmed that we were looking at a Stinkhorn mushroom and sent this piece of information over to me:

One key identification feature of the stinkhorn mushroom is a foul odor that is hard to explain.  The smell is sometimes compared to rotting meat, but to me the stinkhorn has a smell all to its own. I would have to say that rotten meat smells worse than a stinkhorn.

The smell is very distinctive and leaves no doubt that one is close by.  The smell can travel a good distance in the breeze. Clathrus ruber is the scientific name for the mushroom most commonly seen in our area.  They are sometimes called the squid stinkhorn because they kind of resemble a small squid.

Stinkhorn mushrooms are frequently brought into a landscape on heavy mulch or compost. They are also found in lawns.  There may be just one or there may be dozens of them in the area.  They usually appear for a few weeks only once or twice a year, and especially during cool, wet weather.

Stinkhorn mushrooms are usually orange or reddish in color when mature.   The mushroom does not look like your typical mushroom.  Stinkhorns resemble three or four finger-sized projections coming out of the ground and meeting at the top. Sometimes they look like lattice.

 At first stinkhorns look like small round ping pong balls half buried at the soil surface. Then the mushroom itself will bust out and begin to grow. There are several types of stinkhorns, but they all have the stinky smell in common. Phallus impudicus and Mutinus elegans are two other species of stinkhorns.

 As the mushroom matures, a slimy brown mucus ooze develops on the inside of the finger-like projections. This ooze is spores. The mushroom itself may reach four inches tall.

This smelly ooze attracts carrion beetles and green flies which carry spores to other parts of your landscape. If possible, remove stinkhorns before they produce spores.  Once the mushroom produces spores the chances of having more of these unwelcome landscape pests rises.

Tilling the area may help get rid of the mushrooms. Physically removing the stinkhorns as soon as you detect them will help prevent them from producing spores.

As with other mushrooms, stinkhorns live on decaying organic matter so tilling the soil will help speed up the decaying process. As long as there is decaying organic matter in the soil you may have more visits from the stinkhorn.

 There are no registered chemicals for use on stinkhorn fungus; using chemicals is not a practical method of control.  If anything, just tolerate them. Stinkhorn mushrooms are actually beneficial for your soil. They help break down organic matter, making these nutrients available to plants.

This article was co-written by Lowndes County Ag Agent, Jake Price. For additional questions, contact the Thomas County Extension Office at 225-4130.

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