Talk Dirt To Me

Gardening in Alaska presents big challenges, whether it's the extra effort in finding plants tough enough to survive our Zone 2-4 climate, communicating with like-minded Alaska gardeners, or keeping up with the latest trends, issues and solutions. We'll try to help with that. We'll also tour gardens from Homer to Anchorage to Wasilla to Willow whenever we get the chance, and post the best garden photos around. Presenting a forum about cold-weather gardening and for cold-weather gardeners is what we are all about. We hope you'll join us on the Talk Dirt garden blog.

Photographer and gardener Fran Durner (fdurner@adn.com) writes the blog.

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'Tis the season for mushrooms

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Local mushroom expert Diane Pleninger will lead a mushroom walk at the Alaska Botanical Garden on Thursday, September 10 at 6:30. Meet at Shop-in-the-Garden. Cost $5 for non-ABG members.

It's been a good year for Clavaria rosea, which is showing up in lawns around Anchorage this summer. Fran Durner photo.It's been a good year for Clavaria rosea, which is showing up in lawns around Anchorage this summer. Fran Durner photo. A reader emailed me recently with photos of these tiny watermelon-pink fungi-like fingers that were sticking up in her lawn. She wondered if I knew what they were. I didn't but said I'd find out.

She emailed back: "In the last few days I've noticed more in my yard, this time SNOW WHITE! They're just beautiful! My 8 year old daughter included a clump of the pink ones in her mushroom collection entry for the State Fair and got a 2nd place ribbon. She was excited to create her collection, look up the names in the book, etc., and said she felt like a SCIENTIST--definitely something to encourage!" I agree they are beautiful - and congratulations to daughter!

A single Clavaria rosea. The fungus is actually quite fragile, breaking easily. Fran Durner photo.A single Clavaria rosea. The fungus is actually quite fragile, breaking easily. Fran Durner photo.Then I took a walk in my neighborhood and noticed the same pretty but mysterious fungi in lawns on my street. You have to look for them as they are almost hidden down in the grass, but there they were, wagging their little pink tongues up at me.

I emailed off some photos and got this answer from Diane Pleninger, our local mushroom expert, who has been leading identification walks for several seasons. "Both I and the late Phyllis Kempton called this Clavaria rosea when we researched it. David Arora says C. rosea does not appear in the western US, but Phyllis’ ID dates back to the 1960’s, so whatever it is, it has been here a while. A Palmer resident showed it to Phyllis in the 60’s and then had to wait 30+ years for the next fruiting in the same spot in her lawn. But 2009 has been a good year for C. rosea and it’s been popping up everywhere. Yesterday, I showed some to a visiting mycological wizard, Dr. Lawrence Millman of Cambridge, Mass, and he warned me there are several pink club mushrooms that look like that and not to hasten to conclude it is C. rosea until I’ve done the microscopic work. Since I don’t do microscopic work, I think I’ll fall back on Phyllis’s authority and call it Clavaria rosea."

Phyllis Kempton, mycologist, expert on Alaska mushrooms, uncovers some "inky cap" mushrooms in Russian Jack Park in Anchorage in September 1988. Fran Durner/ADNPhyllis Kempton, mycologist, expert on Alaska mushrooms, uncovers some "inky cap" mushrooms in Russian Jack Park in Anchorage in September 1988. Fran Durner/ADNThe late Phyllis Kempton was a nationally respected mycologist who studied Alaska mushrooms with research partner Virginia Wells for close on 45 years. They travelled the state in the summer months collecting specimens and taking field notes. In the winter, Kempton studied the dried mushrooms with a microscope taking further notes. They amassed a huge collection of specimens that were donated to the University of Michigan's Herbarium in 2001 after Kempton's death.

Mushrooms that you see in your lawn are the fruiting body of a fungus whose mycellium are present in the soil. Sometimes, it takes a long time for the conditions to be just right for them to appear - hence the long wait in between sightings of this particular fungi. It may be another 30 years before it appears again so enjoy them while you can.

If you are interested in finding out more about Alaska's mushrooms, take a walk with Diane on Thursday.

Click here to post photos of mushrooms and fungi that you have found to the garden gallery.

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