Garden Q&A: Turkey tail fungi

For The Baltimore Sun

These things are growing on the stump of a tree we cut down. We’re worried that they will spread to other trees and kill them.

Turkey tail fungi is striking with its vivid color pattern resembling the fanned feathers of a tom turkey, strutting to attract the ladies. The concentric color bands vary greatly, including bluish, white, black, yellowish and reddish. The fungi’s primary work is to break down dead, not live, wood, so your other trees are not in danger. The fruiting bodies, or caps, you see can form shelves or tiers and often overlap. This fungi, Trametes versicolor, is a polypore, meaning that underneath the cap, spores come from small pores, not gills or teeth as in other mushrooms. Like many non-pathological fungi, turkey tail fungi benefit nature by recycling nutrients in the forest, making them available to other plants.

A number of trees in our neighborhood had an aphid infestation this year. The leaves turned yellow, curled and dropped early. Black aphids were on the leaves, along with white aphid droppings and a yellow honeydew substance. The county will not treat the infestation. My research says spraying trees is the best option. Due to the fact these are very tall 25-year-old maples and so many are affected, this is highly impractical. Are there other options?

We do not recommend spraying trees for aphids. Aphids are normally controlled by beneficial insect predators and parasitoids. Using insecticides is impractical and not good for the environment. Their use eliminates beneficial insects (such as ladybugs, which eat huge numbers of aphids) for much longer than control is needed, which causes new infestations. This year’s particular weather conditions created a banner year for aphids. (The white things on the leaves were shed skins from their molting, not excrement.) Note that using high-nitrogen fertilizers (even on lawn beneath) can encourage lush growth, which attracts aphids.

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