Q: I live in a subdivision where people all care about their lawns. For the past two years, I have found several large black round growths in my yard; others are also having the same problem. They are hard, crusty specimens and when I try to dig them out, they seem to pop open emitting a dark dusty pile of junk. When I dig them, it leaves a big hole in my yard.
Are they some kind of mushroom? How can I kill or destroy them?
H.B. of Wood River
A: You are describing the black truffle (Tuber excavatum), which is a type of mushroom. They usually make their appearance in December and January, sometimes even earlier in autumn or as late as March.
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Truffles can occur anywhere that their plant hosts are found, including hardwood trees such as oak. Some are hollow and others are solid with a marbled appearance. They release spores when disturbed, which may resemble a dirty cloud and give off a complex odor that has been described as part earthy and part garlic, cheese, chocolate, spice and something too pungent to be kept in a closed room. Mycologists love to try and get the most precise smell to describe it. But for truffles it will be intense.
Truffles are known to be a delicacy and are not easily identified. Don’t try eating them unless you find a good website that can help you identify when they are ripe and mature. Some people have allergies to them. A good site is www.natruffling.org to help you with the identification.
As you have probably noticed, after a few years, the surface of the soil where these truffles grow resembles the aftermath of a forest fire.
With most mushrooms, the best way to get rid of them is by using a tree watering device to inject water deep into the soil until water starts settling on the top of the soil. This usually works for killing the fruiting bodies of truffles as well. You may notice small mammals digging and trying to feed on them, including flying squirrels, field mice and chipmunks.
If you lived in Europe, I would suggest you invest in a truffling pig to dig them up, as they are in high demand and are priced likewise.
Q: Poinsettias were usually just white, pink and red in flower color. But for the past few years I’ve seen blue and white and even yellow ones.
Are these all true colors or are the growers doing some painting of them?
K. S. of Belleville
A: There is new yellow or melon-color poinsettia that is available this year. As far as the blue ones, they are painted and usually the glitter gives them away. Ecke Poinsettias in California is always trying to breed different colors; the marbled colors of pink and white, as well as red and white, have been around for a number of years. Smaller varieties are also more noticeable.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Things to do this week:
Feed the birds if you have not started so you have outside bright colors flitting around during the Christmas holidays.