I had to gear up for this post for many, many days (just ask my friends--I wouldn't stop talking about stinkhorns). I was so excited when I found these (still not sure why, exactly), and fussed over which images to post, read up what I could about them, etc. I really wanted to do right by them. I’m going to have to go to the library. (Edit: Went to library. Found nothing more.)
“Stinkhorn” is another word you hear and think it’s a big joke, like “slime mold”. Except these really are! They are nasty yet wonderful. I mean, come on!
Stinkhorns really pull out all the stops when it comes to wild forms. Just type “stinkhorn” into a search bar. The ones in this post are nothing compared to some of the really elaborate ones.
|Pseudocolus fusiformis, the "stinky squid"|
See the fly?
Stinkhorns show up suddenly (it can be only two or three hours between when they burst out of their “egg” and are fully formed), and they enlist flies to spread their spores, and what do flies like? Nasty, filthy, rotting things, which stink.
Bewildered people post pictures online asking for ID help (“What the heck are these things that appeared in my garden mulch overnight?!? They’re vulgar! They stink!”), a dozen or more in a patch, all flopped around in different directions. They look like a bunch of bizarre, aimless animals. I can’t wait to see that myself.
So, the stinkhorn’s nasty slime is what stinks (the little black smears on this one), more specifically, the spores suspended in it (if I got that right), and the flies get all excited and clamber all over it getting spore-slime all over their feet, and then they go land somewhere else and spread the spores.
And they really stink! I was puttering around in the woods when I caught a whiff of something I was sure was a dead animal. It was this little stinkhorn and a few of its little friends, about 15’ away from me. I saw it from a distance and thought it was a fallen trumpet vine flower, that’s how orange and bright it was. (Later I realized I’ve never actually seen trumpet vine growing in the woods.)
That’s the empty “egg” it came out of. These have a characteristic tough mycelial cord called a rhizomorph.
This species has arms that arise from a single fused point in the egg. This one conveniently fell out of its egg sac so I could see that. You may not be able to make it out clearly in these images (but I bet you could if you clicked on them to see them larger) but each one has three arms that are joined at the tip, making a sort of long narrow cage. Sometimes there’s four arms. No big deal.
There’s another orange stinkhorn species with multiple arms joined at the top but the arms are all separate from each other in the egg.
|Left to right: a mature Pseudocolus fusiformis in its prime; an egg I cut in half; a shriveling spent one; and three unopened eggs.|
Above left: three unopened eggs next to a deteriorating older specimen.
Above right: the interior of an egg. The unpleasant-olive-colored junk between the two orange areas is the immature sporeslimegoostink, which will be inside the arms when this one matures.
The flies were enchanted. I had a little trouble convincing them to leave. So I didn’t.
People eat the eggs of some species, pickled. If anyone ever said they were delicious, I would try them, but “you should try them at least once” doesn't make them sound that great to me.
This is a different species, either Mutinus caninus, M. elegans or M. ravenelii. Even my go-to site, mushroomexpert.com, mushes these three together. Whichever one it is, it has already lost the slimy smelly goo at the tip, which was a most unpleasant green-brown and covered maybe a quarter of the length. I cannot determine which one it is, because descriptions offer a color range like “orangish to pinkish” spikes and “whitish to pinkish or purplish” eggs. Nothing very definite. I was hoping it was Mutinus caninus so I could say its common name, “dog’s penis stinkhorn”, a lot, but I really can’t tell what this one is. There was just this one, peeking around the underbrush at me.
I found more stinkhorns (below). Once again, the stalk had already lost its spore-loaded smelly smear on the tip. Same story as above, can’t really say for sure which one it is, so I still can’t say “dog’s penis stinkhorn” over and over.
I went back to this spot three times in a week trying to catch freshly-emerged spikes, but that was before I learned they could emerge in 2-3 hours and fall apart that same day, so I must have kept missing them. I was hoping I’d show up and find a whole bunch of them all up at once.
I did find some carrion beetles on them on one of my visits, but they are wary beetles and scattered before I could take their picture. Carrion beetles. They eat carcasses. Stinkhorns stink.
|The whole stinkin’ family|
There wasn't much odor at all here. The upright member had already lost its spore goo and was starting to deteriorate, and it looked like somebody had been eating it. I cut open one of the eggs and lots of clear, non-smelly liquid poured out. The stink isn't until the stalk has emerged, with spores ready to be dispersed by flies, which, by the way, means it depends on another organism to reproduce and doesn't that remind you of another growing thing? Flowers, perhaps?
There’s one of the eggs cut in half.
|Immature stinkhorn eggs.|
Also, when you think about it, how often do you find a dead animal in the woods? Nobody would pass up an opportunity for a free meal for long. They go quick. So if you're ever in the woods, and hoping to find stinkhorns, and smell something nasty, go towards it.
I don’t know what else to say. Stinkhorns! Eggs! Slime!