Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Devil's Dipstick

Many people enjoy feeding birds. They fill their feeders each day and birds showed up for the feast. Their yard provides food and cover for her birds. It’s interesting that we do the same thing for fungi. We mulch our landscape beds with bark mulch. Yet we seem surprised when fungi show up to feed on or live among the remnants of trees. What some view as unnatural is one of the most natural processes in nature. Take a walk in the woods after a rain and you’ll see a plethora of fungi growing on rotten logs and fallen branches. It’s been estimated that there are 400lbs/acre of fungal biomass in some woodland soils.

Most of our wood rotting fungi are basidiomycetes, capable of breaking down cellulose or lignin. Many fungi that we see on mulch are not feeding on wood. Indeed, most of the fungi encountered in mulch are not plant pathogens and are harmless to plants. Some of the more common fungi observed on mulch are slime molds, stinkhorns, bird’s nest fungi, and various higher fungi that produce a fruiting structure called a mushroom or toadstool.

Above is a photo of a stink horn. The fruiting body of this fungus is brightly colored, but you will probably smell it before you see it. One of the more common stink horns is Mutinus elegans, called the elegant stinkhorn or the “Devil’s Dipstick”. The smell of the elegant stink horn has been compared to rotting meat. It’s the smell that attracts insects which aid in spore dispersal.

Photo and Article taken from "Ornamental Pest and Disease Update - July 2007". Written by Alan Windham, UT Extension.

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