The fungus is among us

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The stench of raw meat has taken over parts of the Hillside Dog Park on Columbia Heights near Middagh Street. But don’t look for roadkill. The villain here is a slimy florescent orange stalk shooting up between the wood chips and covered with flies.

Say hello to your new neighbor: the Elegant Stinkhorn mushroom.

The Hillside Dog Park, which is covered in wood chips, is practically an all-you-can-eat buffet for the mushroom, which spends its time decomposing the moist, woody pieces.

The Elegant Stinkhorn isn’t just any low level fungus, but both ecologically and evolutionally sophisticated, said Brooklyn’s best-known naturalist, Wildman Steve Brill.

“Most so-called ‘advanced’ plants are the flowering plants because they have adapted to use insects or other animals to pollinate or spread their seeds,” said Brill. “That’s what the Elegant Stinkhorn are doing. More primitive ones just put pollen into the air.”

So those buzzing flies are actually the product of complex evolution. The Stinkhorn’s eau de toilet is its aroma of decaying flesh, and the flies can’t get enough. Lured in by the scent, the flies grab some of the Stinkhorn’s sticky slime and spread the mushroom’s spores.

Dog owners note that the park has more woodchips this year, which could explain the abundant sprouts of the unique mushroom. But despite the presence of this bizarre looking and smelling growth, most dog owners are unfazed or even unaware of this fungus among us.

Michael Rycheck and Ron Hernandez of Willow Street take Jack to the dog park almost daily. Neither had any concerns about the peculiar growth, despite not knowing anything about it.

“I’ve seen them all around and thought it was something like a dried-up flower,” said Hernandez.

Even before finding out the Stinkhorns are safe, the couple did not have any reservations about the pooch running amongst the mushrooms. “Jack’s part Rotweiler,” said Rycheck. “He can take anything. I’m not concerned at all.”

That sentiment was shared by another dog park regular, Christina Zausner, who said her dog Mac seems pretty indestructible. Granted, she had no idea what the limp orange stalk was. “I thought it was some sort of children’s toy scattered on the ground,” she said. “I guess I need glasses.”

Her daughter Anna was more impressed after hearing about the sophisticated growth that’s taken residence in her neighborhood. “I think it’s really amazing,” she said, before running off to take another look.

Our stinky summer guests will stay until their mortal enemy, the first frost, arrives this fall. Until then, the fungi and the French Bulldogs can continue to cohabitate, which entails paying little attention to one another.

If your dog becomes curious about the disgusting visitor infringing on their turf, don’t fear the Stinkhorn. It’s not toxic and considered by most to be inedible, even to our furry friends.

“Dogs don’t eat mushrooms, they are just not interested,” said Brill. “The Stinkhorn is just for flies. They really are gross.”

Juliana Bunim is a writer who lives in Brooklyn Heights

The Kitchen Sink

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Updated 4:31 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Amanda says:
Puppies will eat anything! Our beagle mix ate the top of an elegant stinkhorn and had very little appetite for a few days.
June 2, 2013, 9:09 am

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