What? Why are you laughing? Get your mind out of the gutter! Jeez!
Stinkhorns are not at all hilarious looking mushrooms from the fungus family, Phallaceae. They are found all over the world, though more so in tropical environments. They start out as what are called “eggs” under the ground. As they grow, these eggs rise to the surface and develop into their fruiting body form within just a few hours. This fruiting body is the mushroom that is visible to us on the surface and is used for reproduction. There are many different species of stinkhorns and they come in a multitude of differing shapes, colors, and sizes. Most have long, whitish and spongy shafts with a brown to puke green cap or “head”. Some, like the “ornate stinkhorns”, can look like anything from a beached octopus to a children’s climbing dome from hell. The egg-like start to the fruiting body is shared by all these species as is a gross looking spore slime, called gleba, that smells strongly of excrement and attracts insects to carry away the spores.
Stinkhorns are not particular about where they pop out of the ground, and will often show up in people’s gardens, lawns, or other places where ripe smells aren’t generally appreciated. Most species fruit in summer and only last for a short period of time, however. Despite this, there are many internet articles on how to get rid of and prevent stinkhorn invasions. Stinkhorns can actually be beneficial to gardeners because they break down dead matter into nutrients that sustain plant life, and are self-sufficient. If only they didn’t smell so awful.
Strange as these fungi are, some people still consider them to be a delicacy. One stinkhorn in particular, the long net stinkhorn (Phallus indusiatus), is especially coveted in parts of China where it is eaten in egg form, dried mushroom form, pickled, stewed, and many other ways. This species tries to be a little fancier than its relatives by wearing a lacy skirt.
To the American palate, P. industiatus is described as “markedly unpleasant” in texture and bland in flavor. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of eating mushrooms to begin with, let alone one that is naturally covered in goopey, butt scented spore slime. But hey, if that’s what you’re into, then more power to you. Just don’t mistake the stinkhorn egg stage for the eggs of the poisonous Amanita mushroom.
1. Kuo, M. “Stinkhorns: Phallaceae and Clathraceae”. MushroomExpert.Com. Mushroom Expert, April 2011. Web. 10 July 2015. http://www.mushroomexpert.com/phallaceae.html
2. Williamson, Joey. “Stinkhorn Fungi – What Is That Smell?” Clemson Cooperative Extension. Clemson University, Nov. 2008. Web. 10 July 2015. <http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/hot_topics/2008/11stinkhorns.html>.
3. Hodge, Kathie T. “An Unlikely Delicacy: The Basket Stinkhorn :.” Cornell Mushroom Blog. Cornell University, 18 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 July 2015. <https://blog.mycology.cornell.edu/2015/02/18/an-unlikely-delicacy-the-basket-stinkhorn/>.
4. Armstrong, W. P. “The Amazing Kingdom of Fungi.” The Amazing Fungi. Polamer College, 25 Jan. 2010. Web. 10 July 2015. <http://waynesword.palomar.edu/ww0504.htm>.