Whether these fungi are good or bad depends on what you do with them.

Mushrooms in Grass
Never eat mushrooms you find in the yard or your next meal might be your last.
| Credit: blw Naturstudio/ullstein bild/Getty Images

blw Naturstudio/ullstein bild/Getty Images

Summer is the time of year when torrential downpours spur a flowering of mushrooms in the yard, a source of great concern for homeowners. You expect to see them in the woods growing out of dead stuff, but in the middle of the lawn? What could they be feeding on? Ancient aliens? Buried kimchi? Last year's fruitcake? Let me address these and other pressing mushroom questions in an effort to prevent widespread panic.

What are mushrooms? Ground-based mushrooms are the only visible parts of much larger fungal organism living the soil. The organism's purpose is to digest organic matter, such as dead roots and buried branches, and thereby provide nutrients to living plants, such as trees, flowers, and grass. Think of mushrooms as the fruits of the fungus. Their gills contain spores, which are a mushroom's version of seeds. Mushrooms appear for a brief time to disseminate spores. Some of the more common mushrooms you'll see in a lawn are fairy ring mushrooms that pop up in circles overnight and white puffball mushrooms that are the shape and size of grapefruits.

Which mushrooms are safe to eat? The ones you buy at the supermarket. Unless you are a mushroom expert with paid-up like insurance, never eat any mushroom you find in your yard or the wild. If it's poisonous, it could destroy your liver. You can't live without a liver.

Can mushrooms poison pets too? Absolutely. Many of the same mushrooms that will leave you in a never-ending nap with do the same thing to Fido and Fluffy. So if your pets aren't terribly discriminating about what they eat outside (and really, which ones are?), don't leave them out where there are mushrooms.

Is there anything I can spray or pour on the soil to keep mushrooms from coming up? That would be convenient, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, nature doesn't care about your convenience, so the answer is no. The only thing that stops mushrooms from coming up is when the subterranean fungus has completely consumed the organic material in the soil. That could take years.

What's the best way to get rid of mushrooms? Pick them, place them in a bag, and put them out with the trash. Wear gloves when you do this to prevent contact with spores and toxins.