Did you know?

There's a fungus among us

By Paul Viau | Sep 11, 2013
Photo by: File photo MULCH MADNESS — Shredded hardwood mulch is a perfect breeding ground for artillery fungus.

Over the Labor Day weekend, somewhere between the wonderful Waynesville Craft Beer Festival and the James Bond marathon on the Encore channel, I was under some pressure (as in pressure cleaning) to help get the house ready for our friends from the U.K.

My special assignment, from my very own “M,” was to beat back the mold that threatened the future of “life, as we know it,” on our front deck.

Not a difficult assignment, so I thought, until I pressed my Craftsman 2200psi pressure cleaner into action. This was some pesky mold, too be sure — perhaps the toughest I have ever encountered. And what should have been an hour-long chore turned into my own, four-hour, murky Bond marathon.

Along the way, I took a break to get more outdoor–strength chlorine and commiserated with a neighbor who was beating back his own mold infestation with hand-to-hand combat.

It turned out that Alden was battling with an even tougher kind of fungus problem than my own — one that is both armed and dangerous. His house was under attack from what is commonly called “black shotgun fungus.”

Did you know? — Artillery (or “shotgun”) fungus (Sphaerobulus stellatas) thrives on well-rotted wood, like the ever-abundant garden mulch. As this fungus grows and multiplies, it discharges (as in shooting) black spores up to 20 feet, with the incredible force of 1/10,000hp.

To further complicate the situation, it seems that artillery fungus is strongly phototropic — meaning it shoots its spores toward the sun or any highly reflective surface. Unfortunately for Alden and the rest of us, those targets include light colored siding, walls, windows — even cars.

What’s worse (Yes, it’s getting worse), the spores of the artillery fungus are (1) tar-like, (2) icky-sticky and (3) fast-drying.

It doesn’t take much thinking to connect the dots on what a mess artillery fungus can be, and don’t think a hand sprayer with chlorine solution, an old rag and some elbow grease will clean it off.

According to Bill Skelton, director of the Haywood County Cooperative Extension Center, “I know of no way to clean-off artillery fungus. There is only way to deal with it — avoid it.”

By avoiding it, Skelton and others recommend not gardening with shredded wood mulch close to your house or next to parking lots. If you have to mulch in these areas, use bark mulch or pine straw. Neither is affected by artillery fungus.

Experts on artillery fungus all agree.

Dr. Don Davis at Penn State  — one of the nation's leading artillery-fungus researchers — said, “The only sure-fire way to stop these pesky fungi from firing their tarry dots all over houses is to remove the mulch. Take away the food and you take away the problem.”

So there you have it. If your house is looking polka-dotted, there’s a good chance that artillery fungus is the culprit. Just move the mulch a little further from the house — at least 20 feet away.

Boy, am I glad I’m using pine straw.