Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mushrooms, Anyone?

A mushroom goes into a bar and sits down to order a drink. The bartender walks over and says, ''I'm sorry sir, but we don't serve your kind here.''

The mushroom sits back and asks ,''Why not? I'm a fun guy!

Actually the mushroom wasn’t a fungi, he was a fungus. If he was one in a crowd of mushrooms then they would all be fungi.

Scientific names confuse me. And they ruin my jokes too.

A few weeks ago I walked into my bathroom and noticed some very odd things growing in a potted plant I had sitting on the windowsill shelf. They looked like little yellow lawn ornaments, with a stem and an egg-shaped top.

On closer inspection I realized I had four perfect mushrooms growing (you can only see three in the pictures.) They were about three inches tall. I was certain they hadn’t been there the day before, but it was possible they were but still too short to easily see.

My first thought was  “Ack, I have fungi growing inside my house.” That couldn’t be good, right? What if I breathe in the spores? Could it make me sick? Could it kill me?

I immediately moved the offending pot with plants and fungi out to the garage, thinking I should dispose of it later. Still, I was curious. What was this? Was I the only one who inadvertently grew mushrooms? I tried to keep excess humidity out of my bathroom, so was I doing something wrong?

Before I took drastic action and threw the baby out with the bathwater (goodbye lovely little medicinal houseplant) I decided to do some online searching. To my surprise, delight, and relief I found immediate answers after typing in Yellow Mushrooms Indoor Plants.

The first site I opened was helpful and interesting. This particular mushroom is the Leucocoprinus birnbaumii. The site was Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month. I was relieved to read that there was nothing to worry about, the mushroom couldn’t hurt my plants, and wouldn’t hurt me if I touched it. He did write we should avoid eating it no matter how cute it looks. No worries about that!

The spores most likely came in with the soil. Although I had moved the houseplant from my living room to my bathroom almost a year ago, it took awhile for the conditions to be perfect for my unintended - but now interesting - mushroom farming.

The second site I found was equally as positive. The mushroom expert who created this site even urged kids to send in their drawings of this cool looking ‘shroom, but still cautioned parents to let their children know mushrooms growing in potted plants should not be eaten. 

The last webpage I opened was not so positive. The author called the mushrooms "less than desirable, basically useless, and mostly ugly". I sort of felt sorry for the little fungi when I read that. Maybe they are undesirable, serving no useful purpose in my house, but they certainly aren’t ugly, at least in my opinion. I thought they were intriguing and beautiful in their own way. 

Then I did a search to see if inhaling the spores could cause respiratory distress or fungal infections in the lungs. I found a lot on black mold that could be associated with respiratory issues, although not all mold was in that category. I couldn’t find any warnings about mushroom spores being dangerous. That did ease my concerns.

After my research, I thought I would bring the plant back into the house, but I put it on the shelf where it had been earlier. I had to decide if I would keep the mushrooms as a unique decoration.

Turns out the decision was out of my hands. The sun shining through the window must have been fatal to the little guys, since the next day they were shriveling up.

Ultimately I decided to reseed my houseplant and replace the soil. Although the mushrooms were uber-cute and very interesting, and even though many experts declared them to be safe for people unless included in a salad or soup, I wanted to proceed with caution.

My brother had a lung transplant fourteen years ago, and has fought off various fungal infections in his lungs over the years. I’m positive this is not the same type of fungus, and almost certain it wouldn’t be harmful for him to breathe the spores. Still, for my peace of mind, I would rather not have any type of fungus blowing out spores anywhere in my house when he visits.

Although this story had a sad ending for my little yellow mushrooms, it was certainly an interesting learning experience for me. I discovered that it really wasn’t my fault the mushrooms grew, that it was just a circumstance of the proper humid conditions since the spores were present in the potting soil. I also learned to appreciate the beauty of something new and remarkable, and to do a little research before panicking.

It’s a good lesson for life in general, and maybe even how we treat others - humans, animals, and plants. Just because something is surprising, brand new, and looks different doesn’t mean it’s dangerous or frightening. A little research is better than a knee-jerk reaction to these little surprises that might pop up in my flowerpots (and in my life.)

Although research has its downside too. For instance, after finding the joke at the beginning of this post, I realized it was scientifically incorrect and I’m not sure I could ever, in good conscience, tell it again. 

You’re welcome.