NORMAN — It’s time we admitted it. We want to believe — in fairies, in magic, in possibilities of unseen but well-imagined wonders.
There’s a plethora of mushrooms sprouting up all over town this year, and the imagination can send even the most serious adults back to a state of childlike awe.
“There’s actually a fairy ring on a vacant lot — it’s a ring of white mushrooms,” said Horticulture Educator Tracey Payton Miller with the OSU Extension Office.
Miller said the fairy ring is caused by a buildup of deteriorating organic matter. The high levels of moisture in the soil and the warm temperatures are causing the naturally occurring phenomenon of an uncommonly high number of fungi to spring up seemingly overnight.
Fungi comprise a kingdom of organisms separate from plants, animals and bacteria. Mushrooms and mold both fall into the fungi kingdom.
Most fungi are so small that we never see them, but some mushrooms can be huge. The large, white mushrooms in Miller’s fairy ring are six to nine inches tall, with the largest having a parasol-like cap with an 8-inch diameter.
As a horticulture educator, Miller can explain the scientific facts behind mushrooms, toadstools and all their fungi kin, but she’s not so grown up she doesn’t get the fun side.
“Fairy rings are kind of mystical and cool,” Miller said.
There is no difference between a mushroom and a toadstool, though often, people refer to toxic mushrooms as toadstools. Even the name “mushroom” isn’t strictly scientific and really refers to the cultivated white, button mushroom.
Mushrooms come in many sizes, and those in Norman yards right now vary from tiny black or tan ones to medium brown ones to large white ones.
Edible mushrooms have health benefits and can be a good source of B vitamins. There is some evidence that fresh crimini mushrooms may even have B12, a vitamin thought to only be available through meat rather than vegetative food sources.
However, think twice before you go mushroom hunting because some are highly toxic. Most experts agree that it’s safest to buy edible mushrooms in the grocery store. Because of concerns about toxicity in mushrooms, the OSU Extension staff does not advise people on edible mushrooms or mushroom hunting.
In northern California and the Northeast, mushroom poisoning is common. In November, at least four people died at a California senior center after a caregiver mistakenly fed them toxic mushrooms. The most common poison in mushrooms is amatoxin, which is colorless and odorless, so people eating the mushrooms don’t know they’ve been poisoned until they become ill.
For those who have concerns about mushrooms in the yard, Miller said to let your aesthetic preference be your guide.
“Usually when you see the toadstools or the puff balls in your yards, the big lesson to learn is mushrooms are decomposers,” Miller said. “The ones that usually do pop up in our yards are harmless to your lawn.”
Fungus on plant leaves is more concerning.
“Because of the rainy conditions we’ve had, you can get fungal growth on plant leaves that can be detrimental,” she said.
Generally, it’s nothing to worry about this time of year, however. The hot, August weather will usually dry fungal growth on vegetation.
“People should be patient,” Miller said. “There’s no need to use fungicides in most cases, at this point. Most trees will be fine if it is a fungal problem. Usually when we get hot and dry, you’re going to see the fungal problems go away.”
When the mold and damaging fungus on leaves goes away, Norman may also experience fewer mushrooms.
However, that doesn’t mean the fairies have left town. They’ve most likely gone into hiding. A good place to find them again is between the pages of a book available on loan from the Norman Public Library.
The Pioneer Library System also has books for identifying mushrooms, if you’re looking for a weekend nature adventure with the kids.