Gardening Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day Mushrooms

Phallic Growths in the Garden

20160807A.jpgThe gardeners of the world have their fair share of surprises and one of the most bizarre must certainly be the sudden appearance of a strange mushroom with an evocative name: dog stinkhorn (Mutinus canines), also called (excuse my language) dog’s dick mushroom.

This mushroom occurs both in nature and in gardens throughout Europe, Asia and Eastern North America. You’ll be most likely to see it in late summer or fall in forest litter – and garden mulch! – because it lives off decaying plant matter. It can be found alone or in small groups. It’s doubly surprising in that it can literally appear overnight!

The tubular mushroom is white or pinkish, measuring about 4 to 4.5 inches (8-12 cm) long, with an orange tip that is covered at first with greenish-brown slime (the spores). The stalk isn’t very strong and often bends sideways. At the base is a white gelatinous “egg”, in fact the volva or basal cup from which the stalk grows. All together, it looks very much like a dog’s penis, which explains part of the name dog stinkhorn.

As for the “stink” part, it really does. It’s said to smell like a mixture of cadaver and cabbage. Plus it attracts flies. In fact, that’s how it gets around. The spores stick to the legs and body parts of the flies that are attracted to its carrionlike odour and they carry them elsewhere, ensuring the mushroom’s distribution.

Given its stench, you’d probably assume the dog stinkhorn is inedible, but in fact, it isn’t poisonous and serious mycologists report that the “egg” is delicious.

What to Do?

What to do when you find this fungus in your flowerbed?

Might I suggest doing nothing? No treatment is really necessary: it will disappear all on its own after a few weeks. It doesn’t harm surrounding plants and rarely spreads. If you don’t want to see it, just slice it off with a shovel or a hoe. You can then leave it to rot or put it in the compost. Yes, it may be back in future years, but since it is harmless, is that really a problem?

I suggest enjoying it! Show it to your friends and neighbors or use it to teach your kids or grandkids about mushrooms. It’s just a little touch of Mother Nature in your garden. Is that so bad?

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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