Should I invite Mulder & Scully to my garden?
April 24, 2010 5:45 AM   Subscribe

[GardenFilter] What is this alien-looking thing growing in my garden?

A few days ago, I noticed this strange little bubbles with open tops growing in my garden. (The "garden" in question is actually a few large containers on my terrace.) They come in several sizes, and the biggest is about the size of half of my thumb. I haven't noticed any animals/insects around, so I'm thinking it's a plant.*

I put in some compost made out of manure in my soil, so I'm thinking it maybe wasn't "composted" completely and now some weeds are growing out of it. Other parts of soil mix were peat moss and compost made out of pine trees and a bag of ordinary garden soil. All these ingredients were bought at a big gardening store. I'm in Central Europe, if that's any help.

Now for the important question: what the heck IS this? How do I get rid of it? Is it safe to keep growing things in my garden, now that I discovered this? Can I eat the things I grow there? Should I just burn the garden to the ground and run away?

* Dear Lord, please let it be a plant pleasepleaseplease... Because if it's some kind of insect/parasite, living on my terrace, I'm moving to a new apartment right away.

Finally, the pictures are here - the green plants in some of them are my onions.
posted by gakiko to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's some sort of mushroom / fungus. I wouldn't eat it, but I also wouldn't hesitate to eat other things grown nearby.
posted by jon1270 at 5:49 AM on April 24, 2010

Cup fungi, maybe?
posted by jquinby at 5:53 AM on April 24, 2010

Most definitely a fungus. From

Certain preventative measures can help alleviate fungus. These include:

1. Watering early in the day so that leaves and foliage have the opportunity to dry in the sunshine throughout the day.

2. Using sterilized pots and gardening tools so that disease isn't transported from the plant that last was housed in the pot or tended with the same tools. (Running gardening utensils and pots through the dishwasher is an excellent method of sterilization.)

3. Pruning overgrown plants and shrubs so that air circulation and sun penetration is improved.

4. Raking and removing fallen leaves or diseased portions of plants that are on the ground around the base of plants.

But, sometimes, fungus appears despite the gardener's best efforts. Fungicides must be applied to affected plants. These can be homemade or commercial.

For fungus treatment via a kitchen remedy, combine one teaspoon of baking soda and one-fourth teaspoon vegetable oil with one quart warm water. Pour into a spray atomizer and shake well to mix the oil and water. Immediately apply to the foliage of affected plants. Be sure to spray the underside of leaves as well as the most visible portions. This is particularly effective for black spot on roses.

Commercial fungicides are available at most nurseries
posted by jehsom at 6:06 AM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another page of cup mushrooms/fungi. Have you tried digging one out? Did it have a stem (possibly buried)?
posted by anaelith at 6:16 AM on April 24, 2010

But that advice is about fungus or mildew growing on your plants, isn't it? This appears to be growing on the compost, presumably on incompletely rotted bits of wood or other plant material, so there's no need to spray; in fact I'd say no particular need to do anything, really. In due course they'll go of their own accord; if you don't like them just throw them out
posted by Phanx at 6:22 AM on April 24, 2010

I also think it's a fungus, but your description reminds me more of a puffball of some sort. As a gardener/botanist/mycologist, I would ignore it.
posted by emyd at 8:19 AM on April 24, 2010

Best answer: It is a cup fungi. I can't think of any reason why you would need to get rid of it. It's not going to hurt your plants or anything else, since it's growing in your compost (on a living tree, a cup fungi might be a problem). What it is doing right now is breaking down the tough-to-break-down bits of vegetable matter in your compost. This makes plant nutrients available to your plants. Mushrooms are important parts of the ecosystem- no need to wig out and start soaking the soil with fungicides.

Most definitely a fungus. From

Certain preventative measures can help alleviate fungus. These include:

Mushrooms are not the same as the fungal infections that this article is talking about.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:02 PM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Phew, thank you everyone for calming me. After looking at some google images, yes, they're definitely cup fungi. I dug out those that I can see because they give me the creeps and I don't want to be too creeped out by my own garden to come near it. But I let them live in a part of the container where I don't see them. (I even let a spider live nearby. I'm a proper peace-loving-flower-child.)
posted by gakiko at 11:29 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The choice of the word "disease" above (by jehsom) was weird. The fungus is in the same space as your garden. It may be eating your plants (parasitic, and therefore a "disease"), eating humus (competing slightly for food, and therefore a "weed"), eating parts of the soil that your plant cannot (and therefore a "nonproblem"), or symbiotically sharing nutrients with your plant (and therefore a "helper"). We don't know, but if it were harming your plants, you'd probably notice the effects...

And, yes, it is a cup fungus (Basidiomycetes class). Many live on dead wood (chips in the humus, which your plants can't eat).
posted by IAmBroom at 8:52 PM on April 27, 2010

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