There’s an Alien in My Houseplant!

Aren’t plants great? With minimal care, they can brighten up a room and provide a calm, relaxing atmosphere – that is, until you notice a little yellow tendril that shouldn’t be there!

Attack of the Potted Plant Parasol

Oh no!

Mark and I have returned home from visiting family in New Mexico and showing my mom and youngest brother around Washington, DC (their first time on the East Coast!). After a whirlwind few weeks chockfull of nostalgia and sightseeing, it feels good to be back.

In the process of unpacking and checking on our houseplants, however, I noticed a color amidst the varying shades of green that shouldn’t be there. Poking up out of the earth of one of the pots was a sickly yellowish-white projection that could only mean one thing: the Potted Plant Parasol is back!

Return of the Fungi

About two months ago, I noticed these strange, alien-looking mushrooms growing out of a Yucca that I was trying to save. They had seemingly appeared overnight, and straightaway gave me the heebie-jeebies! Upon first horrified glance, I hurriedly shared it to the local Maryland Mycology Facebook Group in the hopes that someone could tell me what these weird things were and how worried I should be.

What are they?

Social media saves the day!

To my relief, it turned out that I didn’t have to worry too much. Leucocoprinus birnbaumii (luke-o-kuh-PRY-niss burn-BAUM-eee-eye) are small mushrooms that commonly grow in subtropical climates. They really like the rich, warm soil of houseplants, greenhouses, and compost piles. They have bright lemon yellow and white bell-shaped caps with white gills that open away from their stalks like umbrellas, hence the parasol nickname.

Other names include: the Flowerpot Parasol, Lemon Yellow Pleated Parasol, Plantpot Dapperling, Yellow Spirit Umbrella, and Goudgele Plooiparasol (Dutch) Keltaukonsieni (Finnish) Gelber Faltenschirmling (German).

Are they poisonous?

Yes, if consumed by animals or humans! They don’t hurt other plants, but you should definitely keep your kids and pets away from them.

Just touching them isn’t harmful, but ingesting leads to a slew of symptoms that include mild to severe diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and, worst case scenario, might be fatal.

What should I do if I find them?

Take ’em out, pronto!

Unfortunately, the conditions that are good for houseplants also tend to be ideal for these mushrooms, so be on the lookout. While these mushrooms tend to be very short lived, they can spread spores that may root in other plants.

If they do appear, remove the caps ASAP to hopefully stop any spores from spreading. Take out and replace the top 1-2 inches of soil in the affected pot.

I’ve read conflicting claims about the effectiveness of fungicide on these fungi, so I’m not sure that drenching your soil with chemicals will help very much. It’s best to repot the whole thing, which is what I chose to do.

Factoring in the Mushrooms

Consequently, this is how I ended up spending the morning elbow-deep in potting soil – not the most fun during a heatwave, let me tell you! After removing the mushrooms and repotting the ZZ plant they were growing in, I decided to just go ahead and do my annual repotting now while I had all my gardening stuff out on the patio. I bought a really neat book called, “How Not to Kill Your Houseplant,” that I spied on Trevor Noah’s bookshelf last year, and it recommends repotting houseplants once a year. No mention of these fungi though!  

Repotting in progress!

Looking back, there are multiple factors as to why these mushrooms appeared again for me. It’s probably a mix of this crazy Maryland humidity, the lack of sunshine our apartment gets, and (most likely) the soil being super moist for the past couple of weeks. The reason for the latter is that before we left on vacation, I’d bought a bunch of cheap plastic water globes from Amazon that I had hoped would water them slowly and therefore keep everything alive. However, I do think they released water way too fast in retrospect.

Curious about these.
PC: Amazon. Brand: M-TOP

I am thankful that our plants survived, yet next time, I might look into something else to water them while we’re away. I’m currently intrigued by these new water drip contraptions being sold (see pic from Amazon). They look just like having an IV hooked up to your plant! Has anyone used these? Have a better solution to watering plants over vacation that doesn’t involve house-sitting? Please let me know!

Sources:

“Maryland Mushrooms and Mycology.” Facebook, Facebook Groups, www.facebook.com/groups/705069236177511/posts/6105619816122399. Retrieved 2021-06-24.

“Leucocoprinus Birnbaumii.” Leucocoprinus Birnbaumii (Flowerpot Parasol, Lemon-Yellow-Lepiota, Plantpot Dapperling, Yellow Houseplant Mushroom, Yellow Pleated Parasol) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox, plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/leucocoprinus-birnbaumii/. Retrieved 2021-08-10.

 “Leucocoprinus Birnbaumii: The Ultimate MUSHROOM GUIDE.” Ultimate Mushroom Library, ultimate-mushroom.com/edible/16-leucocoprinus-birnbaumii.html. Retrieved 2021-08-10.

Volk T. (2002). “Fungus of the Month for February 2002”. http://botit.botany.wisc.edu/toms_fungi/feb2002.html. Retrieved 2021-08-10.

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