Monday, September 8, 2008

The Battle of The Little Stinkhorns

If you've been to the Rocky Run in the last day or two, you may have noticed these weird tubular mushroom-like things popping up out of the wood chips, and wondered what they were. We were there yesterday morning, and noticed them ourselves. Yolanda has some knowledge of mushrooms, and quickly identified the intruding fungi as--wait for it--The Dog Stinkhorn(Mutinus Caninus). No, I am not making that up. Just click on the link and see for yourself.

Yolanda has pointed them out to me down in Fort Washington Park from time to time--nothing terribly rare or exotic about them. They thrive in damp wood chips, and the run is about the most perfect environment they could hope to find.

It's called the dog stinkhorn because it purportedly resembles a male dog's excited reproductive organ. To put it discreetly. We weren't so concerned with what they look like as whether they might be toxic to dogs--when in doubt, get it the hell out. Norma (Cheyenne's person) was there, and opened up the storage bin to get some gardening tools, with which we began the battle--and quickly learned the mushrooms themselves were just the advance attack force.

Under the surface, there were scores of little white 'eggs', waiting to send up more exploratory feelers--we dug up and tossed away as many as we could find, but we quite certainly missed a lot of them.

The mushroom itself is just a means of propagation--the top of the 'phallus' secretes a dark slimy spore-laden substance which mimics the smell of rotting meat, which attracts flies, who then spread the spores around A very elegant reproductive strategy, quite different from that of most other mushrooms, who release their spores into the air. One of these days, The SciFi Channel shall have to do a horrible low-budget TV movie about giant mutant killer stinkhorns. Can't wait.

In the meantime, we've got a very real problem, though probably not too serious--dogs can also be attracted to the smell of rotting meat, and that brown slimy substance on the stinkhorns can cause severe intestinal distress if ingested. The mushroom itself is harmless, but just a few exploratory licks could possibly lead to vomiting and diarrhea. I didn't see any sign that the dogs present in the run found the mushrooms that interesting, but there have been reported incidents elsewhere of the dog stinkhorn making other people's mutinous canines sick--didn't read about any fatalities associated with consuming the slime, but it sounds like the aftereffects can be extremely messy and unpleasant.

As this gardening website makes clear, it is very difficult to get rid of the dog stinkhorn once it becomes established in a particular patch of ground. If you look at this photo of the ground we dug up yesterday, you can see it's abundantly laced with white rhizomorphs--basically fungal rootlets. This has been incubating for a while, and we can't very well dig up the entire run and start over. Well we can, but we don't want to--and they'd just come back again anyway.

Somebody else on that gardening website suggests soaking the ground with bleach--maybe as a last resort. But towards the bottom of that page, somebody says she contacted the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and was told that you could make a solution of two tablespoons of baking soda per gallon of water, and spray it on the affected area. She said she'd had good results--it seems to make the soil less hospitable to the stinkhorns. Somebody else suggested adding a bit of dishwashing liquid to the solution, to make it stick better. I figured it was worth a try--sprayed about half a gallon of it on the area we dug up yesterday evening. Was it enough? Does it always work? I have no idea. But if anyone wants to mix up some more of this baking soda solution and spray any area where the stinkhorns manifest themselves, feel free.

Decomposing wood chips in a damp shady area are obviously going to be hospitable to mushrooms of various types. Our dogs can co-exist with fungi--how often do you hear of a dog getting sick from eating wild mushrooms? A lot less often than you hear about humans doing the same.

If you see these little stinkhorns popping up, don't panic--just get them out of the run. Spread the word around among other dog owners, so everybody knows not to let their dogs eat or lick them. Far as I know, nobody's dog has gotten sick from these things. But I figured I'd raise a stink about them just in case. They've got their place in nature. Just not in a dog run.


Michael Sullivan said...

Any luck with the baking soda solution?

I've been spraying for a few weeks, it appears to help for a while, but they tend to reappear, requiring another baking soda bath.

I'm dreading that the only permanent option is to dig out all of the affected soil. Not looking forward to that.

Chris said...

Well, hard to say--we don't seem to be getting any more of them at present (haven't seen a one this summer), but we certainly did get them on and off for some time after we started with the baking soda solution. My impression is that it works, but don't expect overnight results. Just keep at it.

Plus, soil conditions may change on their own, in ways the stinkhorns don't like--wild fungi are unpredictable critters, which is why some edible mushrooms and truffles cost a fortune.

Was not expecting a reply to this at such a late date, but that's the internet for ya. :)