Stinkhorns: the Devil's fungus

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN 

Rosie Hoadley knew something strange was happening in her back yard last week, but she sure didn’t know what it was.

It turns out it was the attack of the stinkhorns.

fungus-1 The stinkhorn fungus is unique in many ways. First off, of course, is the color. Although there’s a variety of stinkhorns found all over the world, the species showing up here, the elegant stinkhorn (Mutinus elegans), is a striking orange finger shooting up from the ground. Wayne and Rosie Hoadley had more than half a dozen growing behind their house recently, and other area residents have also discovered the odd visitor.

Next on the stinkhorn’s list of characteristics is its odor. Maybe it should be listed first, because stinkhorns—also known as the devil’s dipstick—are often smelled before they’re seen. There’s no question about how the stinkhorn got its name.

The smell isn’t easy to describe, but think about rotting flesh and you’re getting close to stinkhorn.

Not every living creature considers the stinkhorn to be a foul finger of putrescence. Take a close look at one and you’re likely to find flies that seem to find it quite appealing.

A pungent substance oozes from the top of each finger to attract flies and other insects, and they unwittingly spread the spores of the fungus.

Stinkhorns are also unique in their growth pattern. They open from a white globe that’s mostly under the earth’s surface. The small globe—about the size of a golf ball—is sometimes called a witch’s egg.

Within two or three hours, the orange finger goes from nothing to a height of up to six inches, due to the rapid take-up of water. The cells of the mushroom are extra large, allowing for rapid division. The center of the finger is hollow.

The stinkhorn finger is a short-lived phenomena. Before the day is done, it wilts and collapses—and really stinks.

The “eggs” are attached to the ground by white strings called mycelia. This is actually the main body of the fungus. The orange stalk is more like the “flower.”

Stinkhorn “eggs” are said to be a delicacy in some parts of the world. According to some sources, the orange finger can also be eaten, but the question remains: Why would anyone want to?

   - Aug. 20, 2003

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