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Plant Pathology Infobytes

August 09, 1996

Wild Mushrooms - Popping Up All Over

In Mississippi wild mushrooms pop up just about any time in yards, woodlands, pasture areas, and other locations, following rainy weather and cooler than normal temperatures.

Mushrooms, often called "toadstools," are actually specialized types of fungi, and can be admired for their beauty and the fantastic variety of form, color, and texture. They grow in a variety of habitats, and generally are important as decay microorganisms, aiding in the breakdown of logs, leaves, fallen branches, and other organic debris. This important role of mushrooms results in recycling of essential nutrients.

When mushrooms are found in lawn areas, many homeowners want to know if they're causing damage. It's important to realize these fungi are not parasitic on turfgrasses and won't cause any disease problems. One of the oddities of mushrooms which appear in lawns is the fact they sometimes grow in arcs or circles. These are referred to as "fairy rings," and the rings often appear in the same area of the lawn from year-to-year.

Mushrooms samples are frequently sent to the Plant Pathology Laboratory at Mississippi State University with a request for identification. Invariably, the sender wants to know "Will it be o.k. to eat this type mushroom?" Since mushrooms specimens generally reach our laboratory in deteriorated condition, we are not always able to provide a positive identification.

While there are some choice wild mushrooms which are edible, we always remind clientele that some species - the various Amanita species, for example - are deadly poisonous to humans. If consumed, even in small amounts, these types could cause fatal results. A few of the poisonous ones are so potent that near-fatal liver damage has already occurred by the time the person realizes they've been poisoned.

Is there a simple way to tell poisonous species from non-poisonous ones? Absolutely not! You must identify a mushroom correctly to the species level in order to know if it is safe to eat. Anyone interested in collecting wild mushrooms for consumption should obtain a copy of one or more books or publications on the subject and become very proficient in mushroom identification.

Remember this rule should you spot what appears to be a choice specimen and you're not quite sure about its identify: Don't experiment - admire it, BUT DON'T EAT IT! A wrong guess could be fatal. There is an old saying, "There are old mushroom hunters, and bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters."

Infobytes newsletter was written by the late Dr. Frank Killebrew, Extension Specialist.