Lion’s Mane Fungus and Mother Nature

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Mother nature provides a never ending fascination. I was recently sent a picture by Judy Edwards. Judy is a local Master Gardener and a great photographer. The picture shows a fruiting structure of the Hericium erinaceus fungus.

Commonly called a lion's mane, this delicious mushroom is reported to have a lobster flavor.

Commonly called a lion’s mane, this delicious mushroom is reported to have a lobster flavor.

This is commonly called a “lion’s mane” and is loved by fungal connoisseurs. This mushroom is reported to have a lobster like flavor when cooked. These mushrooms are also called “Bear’s Head” or “Monkey’s Head”, however, I think lion’s mane is a better descriptive common name.

One thing to note about this picture is the damage to the bark below the mushroom. Tree bark is an effective fungal barrier. Just like our skin, bark helps protect the tree from infection. When mushrooms are seen emerging from a tree, it is a sign that the structural integrity of the tree is being compromised by the fungus. In this particular instance, the tree is in the woods and it is not an issue if it topples in a wind storm. However, if the tree could potentially damage a house, garage, or outbuilding, I advise the tree be taken down. However, in this particular case no action is need.

This time of year, another fascination (or bane) of mother nature is that white stuff we commonly call snow. Although nice to see, wintry weather produces safety concerns when snow and ice accumulates on sidewalks and driveways. Typical ice melt products are chloride-based salts (calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, or sodium chloride). Although it is important to treat sidewalks for safety reasons, it is important to understand potential environmental effects.

The chloride-based salts are relatively environmentally friendly products, but like all things, the dose makes the poison. Rock salt, which is a mixture of calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, or sodium chloride, works well at melting ice. However, too much can damage or burn plants in the landscape and be a pollutant to surface water. Normally two or three light salt applications are no cause for concern. Rain leaches the salts down through the soil preventing any damage to pants. Although small dose of salt are not a problem to the environment and plants in the landscape, excessive salt applications can cause plant problems.

Salt damage to landscape plants shows the same symptoms as over-fertilization. Leaf margins and tips will turn brown. This browning is typically called “burn”. Extreme salt damage is evident within a few days or weeks. However, slight salt damage may not show up until mid-spring or early summer.

For this reason, be careful about over apply de-icing salt. Ideally, it is best to keep salt away from trees and shrubs. However, if too much salt has been applied on a surface that drains to a landscape planting, irrigate (water) the site to leach the salt out of the root zone of the plants.

Salt damage can also be avoided by utilizing salt substitutes. The Cadillac of ice melt products is calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). This material is one of the safest ice melt products because it has very low corrosive potential, meaning less damage to cars, vegetation, sidewalks etc. Calcium magnesium acetate is biodegradable and its ice melt properties are comparable to most standard salt formulations. However, the main limiting factor for CMA is cost. This products typically is priced at twenty times the cost of rock salt. However, if small areas are being treated, it will not be cost prohibitive.

Fertilizer, 10-10-10, can also be used to melt ice. The main concern with fertilizer as an ice melt, is its ability to contaminate water. If your sidewalk and driveway drain into a the lawn or other vegetative area, it may be fine to use fertilizer as ice melt. However, nutrient pollution is an issue with some of our surface waters and should not be exacerbated willy-nilly fertilizer usage.

Besides salt, CMA, and fertilizer, sand can also be used to reduce the slip and fall potential of wintery weather. Of course sand does not melt ice, but it does provide improved traction and it can be easily swept off when sidewalks dry.

A final option for dealing with snow and ice is probably my favorite. Just do nothing. Let the sun melt the ice. Turn on the kettle, make a big mug of hot cocoa, and enjoy the snow.