Don’t let this happen to you!
An ugly spooky disgusting-looking fungus growth pops up in your garden one day.
Fear comes in to you because it looks like a Halloween zombie coming to take over.
You decide to pick it up and it releases a cloud of cinnamon brown powder into the air, and you’re instantly freaked out that it’s going to multiply all over the place.
You decide to get rid of it before it can spread. You wrap it in plastic and dispose of it. And you hope that sucker never comes back!
Then, feeling smugly smart and happy that you caught it in time and disposed of it, you go on with life and forget about the whole incident.
That’s what I did.
What a HUGE MISTAKE!
What’s really scary is looking back at how stupid my decisions were!!!
Fast forward several years, it’s a hot, dry October. A couple more of them pop up.
Don’t fungi usually grow in rainy weather? Like Irish green gardens with mushrooms. These popped up in dry conditions.
This time, (thankfully I’m getting smarter), I searched for ugly brown fungus on Google and soon found it in the images.
I could hardly believe what I read! This ugly fungus is the greatest gift a gardener could ever receive!
It’s the food forest gardener’s holy grail, grand prize, jackpot, best garden helper ever!
Pisolithus arrhizus!!! Mycorrhizal fungi!!
These are the fruiting heads of the Mycorrhizal fungi!!
If you see these in your garden, hoot, holler, and jump for joy!!
Look what I read on the website BayAreaMushrooms: http://www.bayareamushrooms.org/mushroommonth/pisolithus.html
It is late summer, when crumbly dog turds appear along the sidewalk, and we know that autumn is coming. Dog turds as harbingers of our favourite season!
In a time of year when there is not much moisture around, in the midst of our rainless California summer, these mushrooms are able to grow and form firm juicy fruitbodies. They are so firm, and have so much turgor that they can even push up the pavement and pop up in other unexpected places to shed their spores.
They do not get points for beauty. I remember a foray in Denmark into a dry sandy pine plantation where these weird fungi were sticking their heads up. Their ugliness was admired by all of us, but nobody wanted to be photographed with them…
Officially, the dog turd fungus is called Pisolithus arrhizus, one of many names for it. The name is derived from the Greek and means the ‘rootless pea-stone’. Dead man’s foot and Dye ball are two other common names for it. Older names for the genus include Polysaccum — the mushroom with the many bags. You’ll also find ‘tinctorius’ as its species name, referring to its qualities as a dye for wool — this has been known for a long time; Micheli mentioned it already in his book from 1729; can we assume that even in antiquity it was used as such? We can compliment all those mycologists in finding very suitable names for this species.
Pisolithus starts out as a club-shaped dark brown object, that when cut open shows those ‘peas’ — little compartments in which the spores are formed. Arora described them aptly as ‘rice crispies in tar’. In this stage, the mushroom is firm, wet, and stains our hands. In the next phase the top matures, the outer wall disintegrates and a dark chocolate brown dry spore mass is visible. Those spores are well suited for air transport — they have pigmented hydrophobic walls, and are spiny, real long-distance dispersers.
The fruitbodies wither slowly and can, when not kicked, remain in place for months up to a year.
There is wide variation in the shape and size of the species – from round and small ones to humongous amorphous lumps. Do these forms represent different stages of one species or many species with each their own host?
As already hinted at above, Pisolithus is widely used in initial inoculation of tree seedlings especially for forestry purposes. Here also different species are probably used, but the name given to the fungus is in most cases P. tinctorius. Paul Stamets’ Fungi Perfecti sells a mycorrhizal mix containing Pisolithus tinctorius (with four species of Rhizopogon). Pisolithus is ideal as it is so well adapted to drought. Mine tailings, dry sandy areas, restoration projects — Pisolithus will grow and help establish the young tree seedlings. Judging from the abundance of the species with full-grown trees here in California, it is also a good competitor which is not rapidly displaced by other fungal mutualists when the tree grows up.
Pisolithus arrhizus is very common here, both in the city, and in more natural habitats under oak. Many people who come to the fungus fair comment that it grows in their yard. In the northern Sierras and Lassen area it is common, especially in disturbed areas, in foothill woodland and open oak woods.
As the species fruits in those times of year that are too dry for others, it can easily be missed by ‘normal’ mushroom forays. So there is only one record in the NAMA voucher data base, from the 2000 foray in Newton, Texas. Fortunately, there are more herbarium specimens, and Grand reported that within the U.S.A. the species was found in 36 states, with most finds in the east, and in the western states. Many specimens grew in dry and disturbed areas, from open fields to sand dunes, sometimes without obvious tree hosts.
From its appearance it is not easy to guess the closest relative of our dog turd fungus. But, the presence of pulvinic acids and their derivates point in the direction of the boletes; these are the pigments that stain the wool. Molecular comparisons have confirmed that bolete connection. In a study by Binder and Bresinsky, Astraeus hygrometricus, another drought adapted ‘bolete’, is a sister group to Pisolithus. A bit further removed in the family tree are Scleroderma and real boletes like Gyroporus and the eastern Boletinellus merulioides.
Enjoy the presence of this species — autumn is on its way, and your tree has a useful partner on its roots!
Thank you for the great info, Bay Area Mushrooms!
I’m over-joyed, shouting Hallelejuh over discovering a mychorrizal fungi in the food forest!!!
Not thrilled with myself for disposing of it last time, without understanding what it is nor its purpose in the garden.
#1 Lesson learned:
Ugliness is not a good reason to hate something, or to kill it.
#2 Lesson learned:
Nature gives you good gifts, even if you are too stupid to know it!
Pisolithus arhizus  is a widespread earth-ball like fungus, which may in fact be several closely related species. Common names include dead man’s foot and dyeball. It is known in Australia as the horse dung fungus, in South Africa as perdebal, and in Europe as the Bohemian truffle. This puffball‘s black viscous gel is used as a natural dye for clothes. Pisolithus arhizus is a major component in mycorrhizal fungus mixtures that are used in gardening as powerful root stimulators.