Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 25 years experience in radio, television, print
DEAR JESSICA: We have a peace lily (Spathiphyllum) that has a horrible mildew smell. We have repotted it from the original pot, and it still smells. How do we get the mildew smell out so we may continue to enjoy our plant (rather than put it in a spare room)? --Doug and Toni Hathaway, Massapequa
DEAR DOUG AND TONI: There could be two things causing the odor: Either the roots are rotting, which you likely would have noticed when repotting, or the plant needs to be divided. Root rot occurs when plants are overwatered or there isn't sufficient drainage at the bottom of the pot. If the roots are fine, then your plant is trying to tell you it's in need of division. Slip it out of the pot, shake off excess soil and soak the root ball in warm water until all the soil washes off. Then loosen the roots with your fingers and either pull the clump apart into two pieces or use a sharp knife to divide it. Replant using good-quality potting mix. If you're lucky and able to divide so there's sufficient and healthy top growth above each root section, you might end up with two plants; otherwise, just discard the lesser section.
DEAR JESSICA: I found this plant growth in my mulch, and I don't know where it came from. I dug it up, and it is rubbery with a white bulb attached. The orange part is hollow and tubelike. It also has a disturbing odor. Can you identify what this is? --Dawn Francis, Manorville
DEAR DAWN: Are you sitting down? What you have there is a "shameless penis." That's the literal translation from the botanical Latin name for the stinkhorn mushroom -- Phallus impudicus. As you've noted, they show up without warning, growing straight up out of the ground from an egg-shaped mass, reaching as much as 10 inches long in a day. As if that weren't enough, they then ooze a foul-smelling slime from their tips.
The stinkhorn is common in North American forests and mulch, as its spores thrive on wood debris. It's edible and despite its foul odor is consumed regularly in France and Germany (eating any wild mushroom is ill-advised; many have poisonous look-alikes).