Fielding Questions: Is this mushroom edible?

In this week's Fielding Questions column, Don Kinzler helps a reader determine if a mushroom is edible. He also helps get to the bottom of a pest eating potatoes and why peonies aren't blooming.

In this week's column, a reader asks Don Kinzler if this mushroom is safe to eat.
Contributed / Lana H.
We are part of The Trust Project.

Q: We believe the mushroom in the photo is a hen-of-the-woods mushroom found at our lake place. Is it safe to eat? – Lana H.

A: Mushrooms are fungi, which aren’t classified in the same kingdom as plants. For that reason, most of us plant people don’t receive training in mushroom identification.

Because some mushroom species are toxic, and because it’s not our area of study, I’m not able to provide mushroom identification or advise whether any types are edible or not.

Instead, it’s suggested that people seeking mushroom identification visit a website easily found by searching “University of Minnesota Mycology Club mushroom identification flash cards”, which is a great tool created by mycologists (those who study fungi.) The website can be used to identify mushrooms commonly found in the region and the viewer can then decide for themselves whether they feel confident in safely eating the mushroom in question.

Q: I’ve had the same garden spot for more than 50 years, and have never encountered the problem I found today. When I dug my potatoes, about half had some animal eating on them. I trapped a pocket gopher in June after only three days. Could it have done that much damage in a short time, or is it some other intruder? I found some beets with portions of them eaten also. – Bill W.


A: I strongly suspect voles, the dark brown field mice with the very short tail. In potatoes, voles eat from the surface of tubers randomly. On beets and carrots they tend to eat the upper "shoulder" areas just below the soil surface. I've noticed quite a bit of vole activity again this year and I've had similar vole damage in our own garden in the past.

Voles breed rapidly, so eliminating as many as possible can reduce future problems. Rodent traps baited with peanut butter or peanuts can be very effective. I’ve also used rodent poisoned baits, especially the types called “place packs,” which are small weatherproof packets that can be placed unopened in affected areas, and the voles will chew into the packets. For safety in areas visited by pets or children, put the packets inside sections of PVC pipe, into which the voles can crawl.

Q: If peonies grow but remain small in size, could it be that they were planted too deeply? I have a couple plants that I’ve had for several years that remain small and have never blossomed. - Jean K.

A: Several causes can keep peonies small and non-blooming. One cause is too-deep planting, as you mentioned. Dig down a little, and look for the uppermost "eye", which are the pinkish or whitish buds in the roots from which stems arise. The uppermost eye should only be about one-to-two inches below the soil surface. If deeper than that, the peony can be dug now in September and reset at the proper depth.

Peonies need full, all-day sun for normal growth. If there are trees over-topping the area and casting shade, growth will be smaller. If so, move the peony to a sunnier location. If grass has been allowed to grow close to peonies, the competition also diminishes peony growth.

Peonies also require patience, because a newly planted peony can take three-to-five years to come into full size and plentiful flowering. Patience is rewarded as peonies can remain in place and beautiful for many, many decades.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at . Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.

More gardening columns from Don Kinzler
In this week's Fielding Questions, Don Kinzler offers advice for caring for a weeping fig, tips for thinning apples, and tells readers it's not too late to wrap trees to prevent sunscald damage.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at
What to read next
John Denver spent a lot of time in the upper Midwest touring and living here. Some readers share memories of their 'brushes with his greatness.'
The newest arrivals in the Fargo area
West Fargo's newest arrivals
Food columnist Sarah Nasello will give away a dozen Italian Butter Sweets next week as part of her weekly SarahBakes Holiday Giveaway.