Fungus among us: Why are mushrooms taking over central NC lawns?


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – It seems like mushrooms are all over right now, leading some people to ask why they’re suddenly so common.

Mushroom spores can easily spread for a mile or more. Experts say most of the ones seen around on lawns have dispersed locally. These days, it seems like they are everywhere.

Blame the weather. Prolonged periods of wet, humid weather cause fungus in the soil to sprout a delivery system for spores. That delivery system is the mushroom and the spores it sends out look for the right conditions to grow.

Prof. Marc Cubeta is a mycologist at North Carolina State University. He teaches a course called “Kingdom of Fungi.”

“Most of these fungi you see are beneficial, they’re breaking down nutrients from dead plant materials,” Cubeta said..

Cubeta added that there are hundreds of species of mushrooms out there, but not many to worry about.

“Of those hundreds of species, only a handful would cause problems and be deadly,” he said.

Some are concerned that they can get sick from handling mushrooms. Cubeta said it’s not likely — even if it’s a poisonous variety.

“You don’t have to worry about being poisoned by touch from a mushroom,” he said. “You have to physically ingest the fruiting body.”

Although mushrooms are the result of beneficial fungi, they can be unsightly on the front lawn. Some people want to get rid of them for aesthetic reasons. With that in mind, Cubeta said it’s not a good idea to try to mow them down in the yard.

“I think its better to go dig them up,” he said.

Mowing over the mushrooms could leave pieces for dogs or children to find and consume, possibly causing sickness. Also, by removing them by hand, people don’t have to worry as much about spreading the spores.

“Most times mushroom spores are released at night, because there’s moisture that accumulates at night causes the spores to be shot off,” he said.

Some kinds of mushrooms can be dangerous for dogs.

“There’s a group of fungi that’s particularly damaging to dogs because they contain a compound called muscarine,” he said. “If dogs consume them, it can cause great problems to them.”

Once the weather dries out, the mushrooms will die back, but the fungus that creates them continues to live in the soil. They’ll sprout again once conditions are favorable.

Most mushrooms aren’t poisonous, but it’s best to give them a wide berth — especially when it comes to kids and pets. Don’t let them play with mushrooms, even though they may look pretty or like a toy.

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