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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Aleuria, Fungi and mushrooms

I have several beautiful orange fungi growing in my two year old garden. They appear mostly between stepping stones (full sun) which have a deep underlay of gravel and sand, and also in a nearby bed which is semi-shady. Is this an indicator of an extreme soil condition that I should remedy? Where can I learn more?


Most likely, this mushroom is Aleuria aurantia, orange peel fungus or golden fairy cup. This species is widespread and common, often growing along roads or paths. It fruits from late fall to early spring.

It doesn't seem to be a problem for gardens....I would enjoy it as an added bit of fall color when it pops up in your garden.

Here is a link to a website in California with a nice picture and some information.

Date 2019-04-25
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Arborist, Trees in cities, Roots--Wounds and injuries, Plant diseases, Fungi and mushrooms, Arbutus menziesii

We recently bought a house on San Juan Island with lots of beautiful madronas (Arbutus menziesii) on the property. Two of them show no signs of life... others have the occasional dead branch here and there. We have been advised that this is likely caused by a fungus and that it can spread rapidly. We have been shown blackened excavated areas on the trunks of the dead trees.. and similar though less extensive areas on some of the others. What can be done to save our beautiful madronas?


It is possible your trees are suffering from canker fungus (Nattrassia mangiferae), or some other type of fungal disease. Here is a link to a file called "The Decline of the Pacific Madrone" edited by A. B. Adams (from a symposium held here at the Center for Urban Horticulture in 1995).

You may want to call a certified arborist to look at the trees, determine the extent of the disease, and help you decide whether the trees can be salvaged. (Search the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture for a local arborist.)

Below is a response to a question similar to yours from the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research:

"What you describe are the classic symptoms of 'Arbutus decline,' which is postulated in the literature as being caused by mostly naturally-occurring, weakly pathogenic fungi, made more virulent by the predisposition of Arbutus to disease, caused by urban stresses, especially root disturbance." (see also: "Arbutus Tree Decline" from Nanaimo. B.C.'s Parks, Recreation and Culture department)

Nevertheless, I am convinced that much of the die-back we are seeing on established Arbutus trees stems not from disease, but primarily from the complications of damage, competition, shading and especially, drought stress (we have had a run of very droughty summers). Typically, the most affected natural stands of Arbutus are very dense, with poor air-circulation, internal shading and intense competition for resources (characteristic of rapid growth after clearing). And because this region is becoming increasingly urbanized, with more vehicular and marine traffic (marine traffic evidently accounts for a huge proportion of the pollution in the Fraser Basin air-shed), I would not discount atmospheric pollution as a contributor to the decline (one more stress).

I think the reason your shaded trees are not as affected is that their roots are probably deeper and less exposed, and there is reduced evaporative demand on the leaves. However, as the shade increases, these plants, or at least their shaded branches, will succumb.

What to do? I do not think there is anything you can do to save the existing trees, except, perhaps, to minimize human influence around them. You should avoid both disrupting roots and damaging above-ground portions of the trees (with pruning, for example), as any wound is an open invitation to disease-causing micro-organisms. Interestingly, a friend of mine who kayaks has seen black bears foraging for fruit in the tops of Arbutus trees on Keats Island (he should have told them they are not helping the situation any).

Irrigation of established plants is nearly always counter-productive because it encourages surface rooting (which is typically short-lived and considerably less resilient than deep rooting), and summer irrigation is worse, as Arbutus are well adapted to our conditions (at least, where we find them growing naturally) and normally somewhat dormant in summer. You can plant more Arbutus, as a previous correspondent in this thread has, to replace what you are losing, but there is no guarantee that these plants will survive the next drought or indeed, your well-intentioned meddling. (I suspect his plant was lost for the same reason most young Arbutus are lost--by root damage from saturated or compacted soil conditions). The natural succession on your island is probably (as elsewhere in similar places along the coast) tending toward open Douglas fir forest with a few scattered Arbutus in the more inhospitable places. In other words, you can plant what you will, but the larger the Douglas firs, the fewer Arbutus will be able to survive around them. Neither species is particularly shade tolerant and resources are pretty limited on rocky ground, where both prefer to grow locally. Expect change.

Date 2018-09-08
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Fungal diseases of plants, Fungi and mushrooms, House plants

I have a potted plant with a fungus growing in the soil. It is bright neon yellow and grows like a mushroom, but with no cap on top. The plant is in the basement near a window. The soil is damp and I've avoided watering for awhile to let it dry out. What do you think the growth is, how to get rid of it, and will it be harmful to my plant? I keep plucking them, but they grow back.


I have had questions about the yellow houseplant mushroom before, and I am guessing you are seeing the same thing. It is called Leucoprinus birnbaumii.

Michael Kuo's website, MushroomExpert.com has information about Leucoprinus. Excerpt:

"This little yellow mushroom and its close relatives are the subject of many frantic e-mails to MushroomExpert.Com, since it has a tendency to pop up unexpectedly in people's flower pots--even indoors! The brightness of its yellowness exhibits some rebelliousness, but it often creates a striking contrast to the green houseplants that surround it.

"Leucocoprinus birnbaumii won't hurt you, unless you eat it. It won't hurt your plant. It won't hurt your pets or your children, unless they eat it. There is no getting rid of it, short of replacing all the soil in your planter (and even then it might reappear). Since it makes such a beautiful addition to your household flora, I recommend learning to love it--and teaching your children to love it, too.

"You might also impart the idea that mushrooms are very, very cool--but shouldn't be eaten. Perhaps your child would like to become an awesome and famous mycologist some day. I would love to encourage your child's interest in mushrooms by putting his or her drawing of Leucocoprinus birnbaumii on this Web page (at least temporarily).

"Leucocoprinus birnbaumii is probably poisonous; do not eat it. Handling it, however, won't hurt you."

Date 2019-05-15
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Fungi and mushrooms, Lawns and turfgrasses

Our backyard (which is flat and no pine trees) has hundreds of tiny mushrooms throughout the grass. Our front yard (which has a slight slope and one large pine tree) has many huge mushrooms. Otherwise, we have good looking grass. We have lived here for a very long time without ever seeing this problem. I know one answer is to "sweeten" the soil with lime. Should we do this now, in the fall, or at what time of year? Should we remove the mushrooms or let them be? Any other suggestions?


University of California, Davis Integrated Pest Management has guidelines on managing mushrooms in lawns. Here is an excerpt:
"Mushrooms found in lawns often develop from buried scraps of construction lumber, dead tree roots, or other organic matter. The fungi that produce these mushrooms are beneficial because they decompose organic matter in the soil, making nutrients available to other plants. These mushrooms usually are harmless to grasses, but some people consider them unsightly or want to get rid of them because young children play in the area. Remove mushrooms growing from buried wood or roots by picking them as they appear or by digging out the wood. Many of these mushrooms are associated with overirrigation or poor drainage. Removing excess thatch and aerating the soil to improve water penetration may help in some cases."
The website further suggests adding nitrogen fertilizer, but bear in mind that excessive fertilizer contributes to urban runoff pollution.

As for sweetening the soil with lime(making it less acidic), it is best to do a soil test before attempting to amend for soil pH. The City of Seattle's Natural Lawn Care information says that you would only need to "apply lime in the spring or fall if a soil test shows a calcium deficiency or acid soil conditions (pH less than 5)."

Date 2019-05-17
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Fungal diseases of plants, Fungi and mushrooms, Prunus

I have a 50-year-old Italian plum tree. The limbs have oyster-shaped growths on them. These growths will not come off--they are hard. Is it a fungus or disease? Or is the tree just getting old?


Hard fungal growths on trees are called conks, a type of bracket fungus, and they are not a good sign. According to The Sunset Western Garden Problem Solver, these growths "indicate a hazardous condition from decay inside." Usually by the time they are seen, decay inside the tree is substantial and you may need to get an arborist's help to keep the tree from breaking and dropping branches, and to assess whether it is a danger to structures or people. The Pacific Northwest Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture provides a listing of local certified arborists. You can also get an arborist referral from Plant Amnesty.

Date 2019-01-11
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Fungi and mushrooms, Lawns and turfgrasses

I've researched "fairy ring in the grass" online, but haven't come up with any surefire solutions. Ours is about 3 feet across, with scant grass in the center. Digging it out and replacing grass or hiring a professional to apply toxic fumigants seemed logical. Any other suggestions to try?


I think physical removal is certainly a better option than applying toxic fumigants, though it requires some work. Washington State University Extension offers these recommendations for fairy ring in lawns:
Several species of fungi can cause fairy rings in lawns. The common symptoms may include a ring of dead grass with darker green grass and mushrooms on the inside and/or the outside of the ring, circular patches of darker green grass, or rings of mushrooms or puffballs appearing with or without other symptoms. Mushroom rings most commonly appear in the spring or fall when adequate moisture is present. The type of fairy ring which causes dead rings is the most damaging. The fungus feeds on decomposing organic matter such as dead tree roots and undecomposed bark mulch in the soil and makes water penetration difficult. Fairy rings are more severe on sandy soil with low fertility. Grass inside the rings may be weakened or killed and replaced with weeds and weedy grasses. Fairy rings may disappear suddenly.
Select Non-chemical Management Options as Your First Choice!!

  • After rewetting, reseed affected areas and fertilize and water properly.
  • Provide proper culture, including deep, infrequent waterings and adequate fertilization.
  • Rake and loosen soil in affected areas. Aerate soil and water the area deeply. A grass-type wetting agent can be used to help rewet the soil.
  • Remove the sod, mix soil in affected areas in the upper 6 to 8 inches of soil with a rototiller, and reseed or put new sod in the area.

Pesticides: None recommended (Revision Date:4/20/2010)

In his book, The Chemical-Free Lawn (Rodale Press, 1989), Warren Schultz says of fairy rings:
"The only sure way to eradicate the mushroom is to dig out the turf and soil to a depth of 2 feet, extending outward at least 1 foot beyond the edge of the circle. It's also possible to slow the fungus by drenching the soil with water to a depth of 2 feet. Some turf experts recommend fertilizing the rest of the lawn heavily to mask the green color of the ring. This practice, however, may encourage other diseases [my note: heavy fertilization contributes to toxic stormwater runoff]. You may be best off learning to live with the disease."

This information from Oregon State University (no longer available online) provides advice on removing fairy rings from lawns:

  • Soak Fairy Ring area daily for a month with water. Punching a number of holes in the area to be soaked will help get the water into the soil. The Fairy Ring area is often dry, hard and difficult to get water into the soil. A thorough aeration in April with a rented machine will make the job easier.
  • Adequate fertilizer will mask the green ring by supplying the entire lawn with extra nitrogen.
  • Renovation of affected area can be accomplished by removing the affected sod and soil. Cut the area 12 inches wider than the outside of the ring. Cut the sod and soil 1-2 inches deep. Remove affected material. Replace with 'clean' soil and replant.

Date 2019-05-17
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Forest products, Quercus, Fungi and mushrooms, Tree identification

I am looking for advice on how to obtain an oak log or two. I got some shiitake mushroom starter plugs at the garden show in Seattle, and it seems that they grow best on oak logs. But I am having the hardest time trying to find one or two oak logs to plant them in. I've tried craigslist, and can't seem to find a thing. My tree identification skills are not exactly up to par, and I don't know the rules for cutting parts of trees in the forest, so I wonder if you have any advice for a novice mushroom grower. I really only need two logs, about 6 inches in diameter and maybe 3-4 feet long. This is proving to be a much more daunting task than I ever imagined!


Have you tried contacting Plant Amnesty? They maintain a list of certified arborists, some of whom will probably have occasion to prune or cut down an oak tree at some point. That might be one way of obtaining a log.

You might also try posting on the Pacific Northwest Garden Exchange (watch out--annoying ads!).

As far as cutting branches on public forest land, you should contact the Washington Department of Natural Resources before proceeding. They have information on harvesting and collecting forest products, and how to obtain a firewood permit.

Once oak trees have leafed out fully, they should be easier to identify. See the following tree identification guides:

Date 2019-05-17
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