Stinkhorn

StinkhornBelieve me if I tell you that the photograph shows a mushroom that I found in December in the back yard.  Its scientific name, Phallus impudicus, is unabashedly descriptive- referring both to its form and it’s “emanations.” It belongs to a diverse group of mushrooms that includes puffballs, earth stars and bird’s nest fungus. They are separated into a group (Gasteromycetes) distinct from mushrooms equipped with gills or pores which usually eject their spores. Instead the stinkhorn and relatives  rely on wind, rain or animals to disperse their spores which are produced internally.  The stinkhorns start off as an egg-shaped body that soon ruptures allowing the stalk to elongate and force the swollen cap upwards. The remains of the “egg” are visible at the base of the stalk. The cap is coated with a slimy mass in which spores are embedded. As the common name suggests there’s an unmistakable odor to the sticky material. The photograph appears to show a  fruiting body with a post-mature spore mass as  I detected very little odor, despite getting within a few inches.  Apparently this distinctive approach to spore dispersal is effective as the stinkhorns, or at least this species, are common in the temperate zone. A second common species known as the dog stinkhorn, has a bright orange-red tip to the fruiting body. A second stinkhorn  appeared in the yard about 20’ away in September. The group is even more common in the tropics and some species are blotched with pinkish, purplish or other coloration. The stinkhorn group has a history of, depending on ones predilections, alarming, repulsing or fascinating observers. I’m definitely in the last category.

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