Massive Rains at Death Valley National Park May Cause These Bizarre Mushrooms to Sprout

by Emily Morgan
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Photo by: David Toussaint

It’s been an odd year for national parks. From massive flooding to wildfires to random waterfalls popping up, it’s been a hectic year for our national parks. Now it seems like the phenomenon will continue as officials in Death Valley National Park recently announced they expect a new, strange species of mushrooms to spring up in the park sometime this fall.

Although the area is notoriously known for its arid conditions and scorching temperatures, recent weather events have made this environment ripe for mushrooms.

Death Valley National Park is famously the hottest and driest national park in the United States. In addition, it holds the world record for the highest air temperature ever recorded. The park hit a blistering 134 degrees Fahrenheit on July 10, 1913.

Plainly put, Death Valley has also historically not been the type of place where mushrooms would typically grow. The fungi prefer cool, moist climates.

The odd phenomenon came on August 5 of this year. On that day, the national park received three-quarters of its annual average precipitation in just a few hours.

According to the NPS, the precipitation in the area this summer means that a type of desert mushroom could grow. In addition, they will likely crop up from the valley’s dried mud this fall.

Death Valley National Parks likely to get a new resident thanks to heavy rainfall

The mushroom called Podaxis pistillaris or the desert shaggy mane, thrives in arid desert regions after rainfall.

On Oct. 20, Death Valley’s official Facebook page made a post about this wild occurrence. It read: “Since the most recent historic summer rainstorms and flash flooding, there’s a possibility of more desert shaggy mane making appearances in the dried mud cracks of Death Valley this Fall.”

The mushroom has an oval-shaped cap that splits and falls off after it reaches maturity. This creates spores, reproductive cells of mushrooms that allow them to spread. Later, these spores are carried by the wind to another area.

Carol Fields, a biological science technician at Death Valley National Park, told news outlets: “I suspect that with any decent summer/fall rainfall event, we will see Podaxis pistillaris bolt widely throughout Death Valley National Park.

She continued: “It does not appear to be rare for fungi to grow in arid desert environments. I don’t know of other species similar in structure to the desert shaggy mane but an interesting study that took place in the Chihuahuan Desert discussed the interrelationships of the microbial community in a grassland. The study observed that the microbial community was able to self-correct under normal climatological shifts.

“Extreme variability might alter the ability to self-correct and potentially cause a detrimental cascading effect on soil systems and ecosystem processes.”

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