Written by Jon Terry, UF/IFAS Extension Clay County Master Gardener
During cool weather in winter and early spring, some Florida homeowners begin to notice a foul-smelling fungus popping up in their yard. Although their strong rotting smell is unappealing, these fungi, known as stinkhorns, are not actually bad for your landscape and can be beneficial.
Stinkhorns are in the same order of fungi that includes puffballs and earthstars and start out as white, egg-like structures in mulch or other damp, decomposing material. Most of this fungal structure is underground. When enough water is available, this egg-sac structure will rupture and the mature mushroom (the “stinkhorn”) will emerge.
Depending on the type of stinkhorn, this mushroom (the fruiting body of a fungus) is stalk-like, globular, or latticed. Stinkhorns vary in color but are usually pink to orange in Florida.
All stinkhorns produce an odor akin to rotting meat which attracts ants and flies that then pick up and carry the mushroom spores to other places, where a new generation of fungi will grow..
Stinkhorns Are Beneficial
As a fungus, stinkhorns break down organic matter. This is especially helpful for landscapes and gardens in Florida’s naturally sandy and nutrient poor soils. In your garden, stinkhorns break down materials such as mulch and make those nutrients available for plants. Stinkhorns do not harm landscape plants or grasses.
Homeowners can take heart that stinkhorns are seasonal, usually appearing for a few weeks once or twice a year.
You can use a few methods to deal with stinkhorns in your landscape:
- Remove decaying organic matter, especially sawdust piles, dead roots, underground stumps, and hardwood chip mulch.
- Consider using vegetative groundcovers as opposed to mulch, and/or keep large mulched areas away from your house.
- Handpick stinkhorns in the “egg” stage, put them in a zipper freezer bag, and throw them away.
- Tolerate them. Stinkhorns are beneficial for your soil. Try keeping your windows closed to minimize the odor problem.
- There are no chemical controls for this fungus.
For more information, visit: http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn-and-garden/stinkhorns/