Bright and Putrid

Winter in Atlanta is the rainy season. Fall and spring have regular, predictable rain— the kind one expects. Winter is different. From late December until February, it rains—drenching rains. The temperature varies with the rain. Sunny days are cold, while rainy days tend to bring warmer temps. A sunny day could easily be 45 degrees and breezy, and the next day the rain brings a balmy 60 degrees. When we moved here, those temperature flip-flops took some time to get used to.  

As it turns out, those rains also bring mushrooms, but not just the regular kind. I’m used to seeing grey, rounded mushrooms pop up after a few rainy days— who hasn’t?  But last year brought a very unpleasant fungal surprise—stinkhorn. 

I smelled it before I saw it. Overnight it had popped up between what remained of the bellflowers and agapanthus. I believe I was trying to take a shot of the nude agapanthus stalk, which resembles a dandelion that has lost the fluffy seed tops that float on air but still has the small stems attached to the flower’s base. To get the shot, I had to kneel and turn slightly to the right to get a better background. I think that’s when the odor hit me.  

The smell is hard to describe. But if you encounter one, very likely, the first thing you’ll do is check the bottom of your shoe. It is overpowering. Imagine the dampest, dankest, mustiest basement you have ever been in. Then, add to that a dash of dog poo and a couple of things put in solely to ruin your taste for a spice you were fond of until that first whiff—say a spice like cardamom or anise. Of course, I did what idiots do when they think they smell something disgusting—I leaned in closer to be sure that bright orange upside-down basket with the slimy brown spot on top was the culprit. Why??? It took a few seconds to collect my thoughts.  

At this point, I should have collected it with a baggie, poo-style, and tossed it in the trash. What I actually did was call my wife so she could smell it. I have no idea why I would want my wife to endure this. Maybe, I wasn’t back in my right mind yet. 

I never touched it. Instead, I avoided going near it until it died. That would have been a reasonable approach—not ideal—but reasonable, had it not been rainy season. A few days later, there were about ten scattered all over the front of the garden close to the sidewalk. 

Not wanting to give passing dogs any extra incentive to gift my yard, I went looking for answers. Apparently, there are different kinds of stinkhorns. Mine were the flashy, show-off kind. Reading further, I found mulch was a favorite growing medium—my yard is covered in two inches of mulch. It seems I am destined to have an ongoing stinkhorn problem. 

I don’t mind stinkhorns existing, but those in my yard seem designed to be especially offensive. They have multiple columns with space between them, ensuring plenty of airflow. The color plus the smell makes them seem like prank air fresheners— like something left on Halloween. 

It has rained the last three days, and yeah, they’re back. I have two choices: buy poo bags or wait them out. Not much of a choice…


  1. Those are the fruiting bodies for mycelium that is growing throughout the mulch. Replacing mulch probably won’t make a difference if the spores are all around. Best to collect the ‘fruit’ and trash them so that they don’t spread more spores about. A yucky job, but if you keep at them, you might be able to reduce their number.

    1. I’ll try removing them as they pop up. Yuck.

    1. Well, it will be replaced in a few weeks. But the places they pop up are the areas with the most frequent mulch replacement. I switched to a different brand of mulch just before this started, and I wonder if that is a factor.

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