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Forest Fungi Fun

Or, I suppose I could write the title as, phorest phungi phun, as a way to introduce Phallus impudicus, aka the Stinkhorn, pictured below.

As you know I’m a bird guy, but who could resist this striking, and stinking denizen of our woodlands? I found a whole collection of these “surprising” mushrooms on the Deer Lake forest floor this morning. I just had to share.

And really, I haven’t gone over to the dark side; they are exactly as pictured. No wonder Victorians used to destroy them so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of young women who might be strolling in the woods on a summer’s morning to be greeted by this spectacular member of the fungi family.

Phallus impudicus

This is the mature mushroom, the business end so to speak. Note the flies feeding on the olive-green slime, or gleba, that coats the cap when it first emerges. The stinkhorn stinks to attract the flies that then pick up the reproductive spores of the fungi on their feet as they feed on the slime. When the flies leave the stinkhorn to forage elsewhere in the forest, they spread the spores for the next generation of fungi.

Once the flies have cleaned up the gleba, the Stinkhorn’s reproductive phase is over, and the fruiting body takes on a decidedly spent appearance. The cap shows its underlying net-like structure on which the one lingering fly here is likely trying to lap up some last shreds of slime.

Spent Stinkhorn no longer standing erect in the forest

Stinkhorns are saprophytes, that is they feed on dead and decaying organic matter, in this case on the forest floor. Although stinky, they are not poisonous, and they often appear in groups as was the case this morning. The earliest part of the reproductive phase is the so-called egg which arises from the underground, invisible part of the fungus called the mycelium. The stalked mushroom with its smelly cap grows rapidly from the “egg” illustrated below.

Stinkhorn “egg” about ready to pop

The Latin name for the fungus, Phallus impudicus, translates to the ‘shameless phallus.’ Oh, those Victorians!


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