As Lawrence residents begin to mow their long, thick post-rain lawns, they may discover that hidden under all that grass is an abundance of mushrooms thriving in this unusually damp Kansas summer.
Although the fungi may look pretty and appear tasty, many are poisonous and some are down right deadly, according to local mushroom experts.
In the past two weeks, two local children learned the hard way not to eat unidentified mushrooms. After eating a poisonous variety, they became so ill they had to be admitted overnight to Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
And the Mid-America Poison Information Control Center, at the Kansas University Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., recently has fielded more mushroom calls than usual.
Jamie Proffitt of the center, which serves Kansas and western Missouri, said they'd been getting one to two such calls a day for the past several weeks.
UNFORTUNATELY, there's no safe way for untrained people children or adults to differentiate between poisonous and edible mushrooms without the help of a mycologist the scientific name for a mushroom expert.
"Parents need to be just real careful and watch their toddlers," said Sherry Kay, a founder of the Kaw Valley Mycological Society.
Robert Lichtwardt, Kansas University professor of botany and biological sciences, added, "Children are a special risk. They're more affected by it (mushroom toxin) because of their low body weight."
Lichtwardt and Kay are on a referral list of mycologists the poison center uses when it receives calls about mushrooms, and Lichtwardt was called to Lawrence Memorial Hospital to identify the mushroom eaten by the two children who were admitted.
LICHTWARDT SAID they'd ingested Chlorophyllum molybdites, also called Green-Spored Parasols, which is poisonous and causes vomiting but is not deadly. The children's physician, Dr. Beth Rundquist, said they were kept only overnight.
Among the most troublesome and dramatic-looking Chlorophyllum molybdites have been appearing in the area lately in great numbers thanks to the unseasonably cool, rainy weather.
Other kinds of poisonous mushrooms also may be appearing inside people's homes, particularly in flower pots, because of the damp, humid weather.
Kay advised, "Anything that grows in flower pots is dangerous," and in the book "Mushrooms Demystified" by David Arora, published in 1986 by Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, the Flower Pot Parasol, Lepiota Lutea, is described as a small yellowish mushroom that frequently appears in flower pots.
KAY'S HUSBAND, Richard, another founding member of the local mycological society who compiled and published a "Checklist of Kansas Mushrooms," said there also were "bad deadly mushrooms growing out there right now." Some can be found in the woods, others in town, he said, and among them are Galerina autumnalis, which "looks like a little harmless mushroom," and Amanita virosa, a perfectly white mushroom.
He added some mushrooms poisons were cumulative, so "if you keep it up, you run into trouble. . . . There's still a lot we don't know about those poisons."
The difficult thing about mushrooms, Sherry Kay said, is that there are so many types and they look so different at varying stages of growth, that it is virtually impossible for the average person to accurately identify them.
IN PARTICULAR, she said, many edible and poisonous types of mushrooms look a lot alike, making it difficult for mycologists to give people general guidelines.
"There are no rules of thumb for identifying mushrooms," Lichtwardt said. "It's very easy to misidentify."
Experienced mycologists, he noted, can identify a mushroom by sight or by keying out its different characteristics, including doing a microscopic examination of its spores.
The Kays and Lichtwardt recommend that people planning to eat wild mushrooms first have them properly identified. Lichtwardt and Sherry Kay also said that if a child does eat an unidentified mushroom, the parent should dig up several whole mushrooms at varying stages of growth for a mycologist to examine.
If poisoning is suspected, medical treatment should be sought without delay, Lichtwardt added, noting medical authorities could then contact a mycologist. The toll-free phone number of the Poison Center, 1-800-332-6633, is listed with other emergency numbers on the first page of telephone directories.
CHILDREN WHO'VE eaten poisonous mushrooms usually have stomach cramps and diarrhea or vomiting anywhere from two to 24 hours after the mushrooms are eaten.
"The very worst ones wait eight to 24 hours," Sherry Kay said.
Pumping the stomach is an option in mushroom poisonings, according to Lichtwardt, but more commonly with poisonous mushrooms, the prescribed treatment is saline solutions to counter dehydration a potentially dangerous condition brought on by the vomiting and diarrhea.
If a person has eaten deadly mushrooms, which characteristically attack the liver and kidneys, the doctor may be able to arrange for an antidote.
"There are a series of different types of toxins," Lichtwardt said, "and the treatment might be different (for different mushrooms). Antidotes are very specific."