Mushrooms Dot Region

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — There is a fungus among us.

A dry spring and recent heavy rains have triggered sudden proliferation of mushrooms in the region, a University of Tennessee mycologist said Friday.

Dr. Ron Petersen, a UT-Knoxville botany professor, said many species of mushrooms bear fruit or “caps” at different times from April to fall.

Petersen said a dry spring caused the fungi spores to stay dormant or remain in the “button” or undeveloped stage. Recent heavy rains caused them to mature late, at the same time as other mushroom species.

The result: an above average sprinkling of mushroom caps dotting damp fields, hollow logs and compost heaps of East Tennessee.

“We get about 20 calls in a normal summer from people asking about mushrooms, but we’re getting more calls this year,” Petersen said. “There really are no more mushrooms than usual this year, just more fruit at one time. Right now is the peak season.”

Common Tennessee species include the fairy ring, which is edible, and the destroying angel, a deadly poison. The state has few commercial growers.

Mushroom poisoning deaths are rare, but people should not eat wild mushrooms if uncertain about its toxicity, Petersen said.

About 10 percent of the state’s known species are poisonous and the same percentage are edible, but the rest are a mystery, he said.

“Many species are less than an inch high and thinner than pencil lead,” Petersen said. “Nobody even knows if they still exist, much less whether they are edible.”