Have you ever walked outside in your yard and said “Pee-yew”? What is that smell? Well I have, and this winter has been a very smelly! During the cooler weather of winter and early spring you may notice foul-smelling mushrooms popping up in your yard like I have. The odor from stinkhorns ( Clathrus columnatus) with it’s weird orange fruiting body is so strong it may make some people gag. Although the smell is extremely unappealing these fungi; known as stinkhorns, are not really bad for your landscape and can be beneficial.
Stinkhorns fungi start out as white, egg-like structures in mulch or other damp decomposing material. Most of this fungal structure is found underground. When enough water is available, the egg-sac structure will rupture and the mature mushroom will emerge. Stinkhorns are in the same order of fungi that includes puffballs and earthstars. Depending on the type of stinkhorn the mushroom can be stalk-like, globular, or latticed and very in color usually pink or orange in this area.
All Stinkhorns produce foul order as the name implies. Sometimes described as a putrid, rotting meat smell, this smell attracts ants and flies that pick up and carry the mushroom spores to other places. The good news is they will not harm plants or grasses in your landscape. In fact stinkhorns break down organic matter and can be beneficial to sandy, clay and nutrient poor soil. By breaking down materials like mulch the nutrients become available for plants.
As for management, take heart that these mushrooms are seasonal and stinkhorns also shrivels and disappear quickly. They will normally appear for just a few weeks once or twice a year especially during wet, cool weather. Stinkhorns do occur naturally in the landscape but can also be introduce through mulch materials. If you can’t abide the stinkhorns even with their beneficial attributes there are a few steps you can take to deal with them in your own yard:
• Remove decaying organic matter, especially around dead roots, underground stumps and hardwood chip piles
• Think about using vegetative ground covers instead of mulch and/or keep large mulched areas away from your house
• Dig or hand pick stinkhorns in the ‘egg’ stage put it in a zip lock bag and throw away
• Best suggestion is to tolerate them. Remember they are a benefit to your soil. Close your windows to keep smell out of the house and try holding your breath while walking by the stinkhorn.
There is no registered safe chemical control for use on stinkhorn fungus. Using chemicals is not recommended.
I've had all of the types in my yard in the past but this year mine have all been octopus stinkhorns.