Sunday, November 4, 2012


Today is a day of deadlines. Have an 800-word article due for Carolina Gardener, and a 500-worder for the St. James Plantation monthly glossy, CatTales. (St. James, the golf-course community where Tim and I do most of our gardening work, is not now nor ever has been a plantation. Old Brunswick County maps label the area “Ash Swamp.” Nonetheless, we’ve met many lovely people there who have kept us in food and utilities for many years, and we’re grateful to them.) It is also past time for a GFTGU post. As my posterior has had about all it can stand of sitting (ha-ha: I grow punchy), I propose to repurpose one of those other articles for the blogosphere.

How come Miss Last-Minute procrastinated more than usual? Yesterday, Tim and I adopted a beautiful little part-Siamese rescue kitten at PetSmart. Cats have always been part of my life, but many moons have passed since there was an honest-to-Pete kitten in the house. I forgot how totally entrancing, energetic and exhausting the tiny fur-balls can be. I wish I could cat-nap as effectively as Phil.

Tim named him Phil. I don’t know why.

Phil, charming Dad
Anyway, here’s a picture of baby Phil (I’d include one of feline matriarch Three and doofy ol’ Fred, but they’re both too busy glowering and growling to pose), and a short piece about the genesis of the crop of toadstools ornamenting local lawns as our unusually (pre-global warming) wet autumn meanders along.


During the incessant rains of last August, I had a letter from my mom in Williamsburg, VA, asking what she could do about the rash of mushrooms and toadstools dotting her lawn. Her yardman refused to mow them down for fear of spreading the spores. When I called to reassure her that the growths would disappear on their own, she told me they already had.

We super-sanitary, anti-microbial Americans have visceral reactions to anything fungal, lumping them all into the same category with Frito toenails, moldy food and mildewed shower curtains. As usual, we misunderstand the natural world.

Hyphae on rotting log
Soil fungi are absolutely critical to life on this planet. Mostly, their business of decomposing organic matter goes on unseen except for the occasional sighting of white thread-like structures, or hyphae, on the undersides of wood bark chips, firewood, and lumber left outside too long. Hyphae make up the vegetative part of a fungus, called the mycelium, which can expand outward indefinitely from a single spore as long as there is something for it to eat.

Before you start imagining a real-life “Day of the Triffids,” let me hasten to add the purpose of mycelial activity is to turn solid organic matter—tree stumps, logs, buried wooden construction debris—into nutrients plant roots can readily use. No fungus, no plants.

Fairy ring: Wanna dance, Oberon?
Most of us live blissfully unaware of this necessary symbiosis until the mushrooms/toadstools appear in the lawn. (The terms are technically synonymous, referring to any—wait for it—basidiomycetous fungi; in popular usage, toadstools are poisonous mushrooms. Unless you’re an experienced mycologist, don’t be harvesting any of them for dinner.) Often, the mushrooms form arcs or rings in the grass called fairy rings or pixie circles, based on magical woodland lore of Europe. 

The fruiting bodies of
Marasmius oreades 
on a tree stump
These growths are actually fungal fruiting bodies, analogous to flowers. When a couple of dry days follows a rainy period, they sprout up, literally overnight, marking the active feeding edge of any of 50 or so species of fungi common to turf areas. Although many people consider them unsightly, they are generally harmless and soon disappear without human intervention.

But what if I want to intervene? you ask.

Trust me, you don’t. And even if you did, the process—involving widespread fumigation with chemicals far more unpleasant than fungi and/or massive soil removal, replacement and resodding—is labor-intensive, expensive… and, in all likelihood, ineffective. You can knock down or pull up the mushrooms if you like. The fungi will continue anyway.

Thank goodness.

Thanks for dropping by.