Gardens and lawns are sometimes home to some of nature's strangest fungal creations, such as puffballs, stinkhorns and fairy rings. So bizarre in appearance are some of these fungal growths that gardeners are sometimes perplexed as to what they are and whether or not they should be removed from the lawn. Stinkhorns, for example, often break out in orange- and white-colored egg-shaped fungal structures across lawns and gardens.
Different species of fungi have different fruiting bodies, which are typically the only parts of the fungal colony that are visible to humans. Fruiting bodies include toadstools, puffballs, bird's nest fungus and stinkhorns, so named because they emit a foul, offensive odor similar to rotting meat. When stinkhorns are noticed in gardens, they are usually orange or white horn-shaped growths. Sometimes several horn shapes grow together, hence their other colloquial name, octopus fungus.
There are two distinct stages during which stinkhorn fungus is most visible in the garden. In the first stage, an egg-shaped formation breaks the soil surface while most of the fungal colony is still anchored to the soil below. One or more stalks emerge from the egg and grow upward, crowned with a slimy coating and a collection of olive-colored spores. Stinkhorns are most common in mulches; so if you mulched any part of your garden, the chances are good that you are observing stinkhorn fungi before the "horn" has emerged.
Other than their foul odor, stinkhorns are harmless. They are not poisonous to animals or humans, do not cause deleterious health effects in your lawn or garden and will typically go away on their own. Still, if you want to remove them for any reason, rake or mow the stinkhorns. If you do so before the "horns" emerge from the "eggs," you prevent the spores of the causal fungus from spreading, and this greatly diminishes the chances that more stinkhorns will form in the same area.
As noted, stinkhorns are not harmful to humans or animals. But several species of fungi are very toxic, even fatal to humans. Stinkhorns' unique qualities make it highly unlikely that you would mistake them for a poisonous fungal species, but some homeowners prefer to remove all fungal growths they find just to err on the side of caution. If you are concerned at all about the potential toxicity of mushrooms growing in your garden, do not let children or pets into the area until you are able to safely remove them.