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Sunday, September 15, 2013

The 'Shrooms' are Coming!

     If you're a fan of fungi, you're in luck!  Our recent rains (as in many days of downpours!) may trigger an interesting crop of mushrooms throughout much of Colorado, including in your lawn and landscape.  They're already popping up in my yard.

     Colorado is home to dozens of types of mushrooms.  I find them fascinating and often comical, but these odd "fruiting structures" of fungi need to be taken seriously, especially where kids and pets are concerned.

"When in doubt, throw them out!"

     There are a lot of wild mushrooms in Colorado that are both edible and delicious.... but there are a few that can be deadly.  Many of Colorado's wild 'shrooms fall somewhere in between.  They can easily make adults, children and pets very sick.  Unless you're absolutely sure that a wild mushroom is edible.... meaning its been examined by a fungi expert.... don't eat it!  And don't leave it around for kids or pets to find.  Just pluck it up with a plastic bag and get rid of it.  You don't need to spray with fungicides or other chemicals.  Most of the thread-like body of the fungi are underground.  The mushroom itself is just the fruit.

A teachable moment

     With adult supervision, mushrooms can make for a fun little scientific experiment.  One of the ways that fungi experts identify a mushroom is by its "spore print."   You can make one yourself.  Simply pick the cap off of a mushroom as it is close to being fully  open.  Remove enough of the stem so the cap will sit flat, then set the cap onto a piece of clean white paper. 

The cap on the right was left for just a few hours. 
Heavier spore prints from caps left on longer
    Within a few hours, the underside of the mushroom will begin to release its fungal spores.... the dust-like powdery little wonders that serve as the mushroom's "seeds."  The spores will settle onto the paper and create a beautiful print that duplicates the pattern of the mushroom's "gills," the fan-like structure on the underside of the cap.  They can be quite lovely!

     The longer the mushroom is left in place (as in a few days rather than a few hours), the heavier the spore print will be, 'til the gill pattern disappears altogether.  It's kinda fun!

Just be careful

     I'm not trying to lecture.  I'm just saying "heads up!" while the mushrooms are beginning  to appear, seemingly overnight.  They're likely to be popping up in your yard, in parks and open spaces and along hiking trails.  Kids and pets are always full of surprises.  Don't let nibbling on a new and curious thing like a mushroom be one of them. 


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