As if by magic, overnight, tucked neatly beneath a cap of mulch, or peaking deftly between blades of grass, mushrooms appear in all shapes, sizes, and colors imaginable. What we observe, recognized as mushrooms, are the reproductive spore producing structures of a larger complex fungal organism called mycelium. All fungi exist either beneficially, as primary, or secondary decomposers by devouring that which has already perished, or saprophytically (obtain nutrients through organic decay) by consuming living matter. Some are responsible for vast improvements in soil health, plant health, and nutrient cycling in natural and disturbed environments.
Fungi are the thoughtful, deliberate, efficient recyclers of the natural world and mushrooms their fruits. We consume mushrooms, other animals consume them, they provide great sustenance and fascination. Mushrooms are valued, feared, and often misunderstood. The connection and vast importance of fungi to biological processes, ecological complexity, and humans is vast and we learn more about them every day. Some of this knowledge is a re-learning as mushrooms have a prevalent place in our culture, history, literature and even religions. As we have moved away from our intimate knowledge and familiarity with nature and into our managed landscapes, we have often lost sight of the mushrooms fruiting beneath our own feet.
The active re-learning of mushroom knowledge can be as simple as going into your backyard the day after a rainstorm. Carefully observe areas beneath shrubs, around the base of trees, within the mulch or in your manicured lawn. With hundreds of different species in Florida, our yards are the most common place we find and interact with mushrooms. Approaching the rainy months, we will start to see more evidence of these hidden beauties in our home landscapes. In preparation for questions from our audiences, I have put together the following list of some of the most common mushrooms spotted by intrepid observers in the home landscape.
Green-spored Parasol, Molybdites chlorophyllum
Size: Large, up to 12 in. wide cap
Where: Turfgass lawn
When: April-November, after a rain
Luxury Caps, Gymnopus luxurians
Size: Medium, up to 4 in. wide cap
Where: Mulch, clusters
When: Summer and Fall, after a rain
Earthstars, Astraeus barometricus (most likely)
Size: Small, up to 1.5 in. wide cap
Where: Mulch, landscape beds
When: All year
Beneficial decomposer and mycorrhizal
Pleated Inkcaps, Parasola plicatilis
Size: Very small, up to 1 in. wide cap
Where: In grass or mulch
When: Day after a rain, ephemeral, lasts briefly
Beneficial or Harmful? Beneficial decomposer
Latticed Stinkhorn, Clathrus ruber
Size: Medium, up to 4 in. wide
Where: Turfgass lawn
When: Spring and Fall, after a rain
Beneficial or Harmful? Beneficial decomposer, but stinky.
These represent only a tiny fraction of the mushrooms you may find in or near your landscapes. If you would like to report your mushroom findings, please submit your photos and observations here.
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