Sunday, May 15, 2016
Stinkhorn fungi (Mutinus spp.) can emerge throughout most of the late spring and summer, usually after extended rains. The latest batch of wet weather has meant many fungi have emerged, the Stinkhorns among them. Though they start from egg-like structures (which are reportedly edible), they spring up and change shape quite quickly and dramatically.
Mature Stinkhorns have a distinctive shape and strong, distasteful smell, thus their names. The name of their Genus Mutinus refers to a Roman phallic deity, and this shape has led to many common names and lore. Sometimes called Phallus Fungus, they also bear such names as Devil's Dipstick, Dog Stinkhorn, and many more vulgar phallic names.
Found on both sides of the Atlantic, their emergence sometimes offended peoples chaste view of the world, particularly during Victorian times. One story relates that Charles Darwin's eldest daughter Etty found them particularly offensive, collecting them and burning them, lest they offend "the morals of the maids." Luckily, these fungi are short lived, the unpleasant smell and structures disappearing and melting away soon after emergence.
The shape and smell serve a purpose. They attract flies and other insects to their slimy tops. These creatures then get the spores stuck to them, helping disperse them so they can start new colonies elsewhere, often in decaying wood such as mulch piles. Gardeners who find these apparitions in their well-mulched gardens, often panic, but these fungi cause no harm to the living plants.
I actually like finding these strange fungi. They always make for an interesting discussion at least. While some experts distinguish between several species such Elegant Stinkhorn (Mutinus elegans), Dog Stinkhorn (Mutinus caninus), and others, many more are now lumping them together as one species. So the next time you detect an odor, investigate, you might be surprised with a phallic discovery, though you may want want to reconsider whether or not you want to stop and smell the roses...