A fungus is sprouting up around Southern California, snaking around stucco and brick to get to its daily meal–the wood in and around your home.
When the feast is over, once-solid walls and floors are left mushy enough to put a pinky finger through, and once-secure property owners are left scrambling to come up with the thousands of dollars needed to repair the damage.
In the last two decades, Meruliaporia incrassata–an orange-colored, mushroom-shaped fungus–has shown up with more frequency in houses from San Diego to Northern California. And because most homeowners, pest control inspectors and contractors are unfamiliar with the unusual growth commonly called poria, the fungus spreads untreated and unchecked through houses big and small, an equal-opportunity menace.
Recently KTLA5 reported a story about a family in California that had been rejected by insurance in which they plan to appeal the decision on. Being left with repairs to cover on their own in the estimated range of tens of thousands. If they leave the home it could eventually eat itself until it collapses as the fungus will eat through structures of the wood foundation and the home will be unsafe to live in.
But unlike other decay fungi, which tend to destroy only a six-inch area around a plumbing leak or wet window sill, poria has the capacity to begin in wet soil–usually under a newly installed patio, new landscaping or a room addition–then travel to dry wood by pumping water through a root-like system. Far from its original water source, the fungus continues to feed on the new supply of wood.
First reports of Meruliaporia incrassata destruction surfaced in 1913 in the southeastern United States, where forest products–the suspected origin of the fungus–abound. There is no record of the first reported case of poria in California, according to Wilcox, but scientists discovered the telltale spores on three coastal redwoods in 1924. Infestations of poria are rare–only 15 cases were reported statewide by 1968, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study.
Poria experts believe that more recent increases in California can be traced to new building standards established after the oil crisis in the late 1970s. To conserve energy, houses have been built close to the ground, where the fungus has easy contact with wood. Newer homes also tend to have poor ventilation, allowing poria to thrive.
One of the most serious roadblocks to eradicating poria is convincing homeowners that a patch job will not cure the problem. When they hear about tearing open walls and digging up foundations, they seek another opinion, often from termite inspectors and contractors who have no experience in treating the fungus.