Tales from the Wood (The Stinkhorn)

There is a bit of a storm blowing in at the moment. It has got a bit crazy and prompted a quick look at the BBC weather forecast. I see that “extreme rain” is forecast on my head in the next couple of hours.

So settle down and I will tell you a story instead…

Nature has so many different and wonderful ways of reproducing a species. Sometimes she can be very imaginative. Such is the case with today’s subject,

Phallus impudicus, the Stinkhorn Fungus.

StinkhornNow even if you only got a B in Latin you can probably figure out the meaning of the name Phallus impudicus and a fungus that looks like this has obviously attracted quite a few common names. I don’t think that it is necessary to repeat them here, this is a serious nature observation.

I do feel a little bit sorry for this fungi because of all the means of reproduction that are available this seems to be one of the least rewarding and maybe Mother Nature was in a bit of a mood when she came up with this idea.

The spores that will ensure the continuation of this species are contained in the green slime that covers the cap of the fungus. That slime is known as the “Gleba”. It stinks of rotting flesh. Flies are drawn to the smell and quickly strip the gleba away. The gleba not only smells disgusting but it gives the flies diarrhoea thus ensuring that the spores fall locally in an area that is suitable for them to grow.

This is a Witch’s Egg. That is the only name that I have ever known for it but witches don’t come out of these, Stinkhorns do. This is an immature Stinkhorn Fungi.

Witch's EggWhen I found this I was quite excited, I already knew quite a bit about Stinkhorns. When they burst out of the egg they grow very quickly, they have been recorded growing six inches in an hour I was determined to video and photograph this event.

I found it on a Friday morning. I was down for a three day camp in the woods. I watched my mushroom very carefully…. for three days. Eventually on Sunday afternoon I had to give it up. It hadn’t done a thing and I went home very disappointed.

I went back to the wood the following Saturday and it was still there, so I resumed my watch. I slept in the wood that night and when I went to check it in the morning it had grown and I had missed it. By the time that I arrived on the scene it was already fully grown and half devoured and I could only watch the last part of the act.

StinkhornI had to switch to flash to record what happened next, it was just too dark in the wood for my camera of the time.

StinkhornThe delicious gleba drove the flies into a frenzy




StinkhornIt only took them about an hour to finish the whole thing.

So lessons learnt. If you ever find a Stinkhorn in the woods in good condition take lots of photographs, they really don’t stay in that condition for very long, the flies find them and strip them very quickly. If you find a Witch’s Egg you will need lots of sandwiches and a flask and you have to watch it very carefully. They are very tricky things.

Final bit of information, the Stinkhorn is edible and consumed with relish in France and Germany. I don’t actually fancy this one myself.

21 thoughts on “Tales from the Wood (The Stinkhorn)”

  1. I have found this post very interesting actually. You were very lucky to find it in mature in one piece because as you said it has been eaten very fast.


    1. Thanks Julia πŸ™‚ Fungi are very interesting and so diverse. I am fascinated with the way that they interact with plants and animals. Thank you for your comment.


    1. Thanks Eliza πŸ™‚ I have found them in the wild only half consumed but I have never found a perfect specimen. I thought that if I could catch it coming out of the egg, then it would be perfect. Next time.


  2. Sometimes Latin names are obscure and don’t seem to have much to do with the thing wearing them.

    This would be…not one of those times.


    1. Thank you Stephen πŸ™‚ The egg was a great find but I didn’t realise that it could stay in that form for so long before the fungi emerged. I am not sure what I will do the next time I find one but I will be very tempted to keep an eye on it. It would be great to video it emerging and then speed the video up.


  3. Really interesting facts and photos. I was out tramping through the woods of New England this afternoon capturing our local fungi. Came across an equally disgusting heap of slime that I had to double check to make sure wasn’t bear scat. If I’d had the time I’m sure I would have observed flies having a field day with it. Brought home some coral fungi to identify and possibly eat for my tea, if I’m feeling brave–or stupid.


    1. Thanks Melissa πŸ™‚ I love foraging fungi but I am not very adventurous, i stick to the ones that I know well and I am pretty sure that I don’t eat Stinkhorns.


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