Note: This article appeared in Tuesday's Daily Press
Like many people, Rick Viancour has been awestruck by the sudden abundance of mushrooms in Hampton Roads.
The sense of wonderment abates, however, when he arrives at work.
As superintendent of the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club at Colonial Williamsburg, Viancour makes sure the fairways and greens are clear of the bulbous obstructions.
"We're seeing a lot of mushrooms," he said. "They'll just appear overnight."
Cooler temperatures, heavy rain and plenty of decomposed organic matter have created the perfect tonic for mushrooms to sprout in Hampton Roads. They're blossoming everywhere, from golf courses and backyards to flower beds and cemeteries.
"There's more than I can remember in years," said Edward Weiss, a biology professor at Christopher Newport University. "They're very happy folks at the moment, these mushrooms."
There are countless varieties of mushrooms - the fruiting body of fungi - in Virginia. There is a much larger, but less visible, part of fungi called mycelia. These are thread-like structures that secret enzymes enabling the fungi to absorb nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, found in decaying pieces of wood, leaves and other material.
When conditions are right, fungi spring up from the ground as mushrooms sometimes in groupings known as fairy rings or elf circles - terms that come from European folklore, where stories say they are gateways to elfin kingdoms or paths followed by fairies dancing in a circle.
"Rain is certainly one of the factors that drives this," said Lauren Ruane, also a biology professor at Christopher Newport.
According to the National Weather Service, which tracks rainfall in Norfolk, there were 26.3 inches of precipitation from June to August. That period's historical average is 15.1 inches. More than 6.5 inches of rain have fallen in September, well above the 4.1-inch average.
Temperature changes also help mushrooms spread, according to the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Since Sept. 16, the average daily temperature in Norfolk has dropped from around 80 degrees to the low 70s, according to weather-service data.
Depending on the variety, mushrooms can be a mouth-watering treat or deadly poisonous. Because it is difficult to tell the difference, Ruane and others recommend that people not eat wild mushrooms.
So, what to do about them?
If left alone, mushrooms will die and decompose within weeks, Ruane said. In the meantime, they can help plants by drawing nutrients closer to their roots, she said.
For those who can't stand the sight of mushrooms, there is the lawn mower - a technique favored by Viancour, the golf-course superintendent.
"We just mow them over," he said before adding, somewhat despondently, that the mushrooms tend to grow back.
Lawn-care companies offer can spray to kill mushrooms, but the cooperative extension advises against it. Instead, their growth can be stifled by a tiller, pitchfork or other aerating equipment.