Good evening, friends,
Mushroom season is heating up and so is the frequency of rain so it looks like the next few weeks will produce some good newsletters. Ciara did the heavy lifting this week and found this tentacled toadstool, the Stinky Squid (Pseudocolus fusiformis), in wood chips at the local high school. She was savvy enough to take MM-quality photos which allows me to rub together the last two brain cells I have (after seeing Dead and Co three times in four nights) to write this week’s publication.
Stinkhorns are perhaps the most provocative mushroom. They’re foul in odor, often phallic in shape, and devilish in color. They can pop out of mulch, lawns, bare soil, and very occasionally on the sides of trees (saw that once on a Maple). I’ve previously written about the Devil’s Dipstick (Mutinus elegans) which I found in Central Park. Not only are these mushrooms provocative in smell and shape, but also in name. Provocative enough to compel Henrietta Darwin, the daughter of Charles Darwin, to hunt out stinkhorns and destroy them. While her puritanical spirit was sound, her methods of collecting them all in a basket before destroying them only helped to spread their spores further.
Speaking of spores, that gooey brown substance coating the inside of the tentacles is the gleba (seen below). That substance is the stinkhorns’ method of spore dispersal, completely different than the gills and pores we usually see on mushrooms. The putrid odor of the stinkhorn attracts insects (particularly flies) to the mushroom where they crawl in and eat the gleba. The insects then fly away and spread the spores - a reproductive method more similar to some plants (those that rely on pollen and pollinators) than it is to some fungi.
P. fusiformis is saprobic, digesting organic material like wood chips and leaf litter. Some folks will try to get rid of stinkhorns due to their unpleasant odor, but these short-lived mushrooms actually provide an important ecosystem service. Their digestion breaks down wood/organic materials which frees up carbon for other organisms to use - part of the carbon cycle. The species usually prefers urban/landscaped environments and is red or orange in color. P. fusiformis can be found in eastern North America and every continent outside of Antarctica. The mushrooms can be found spring through fall but seem to peak in late summer per the iNaturalist seasonality chart.
A similar species, Clathrus columnatus grows further south in North America, around the Gulf Coast, but the range can extend up to Pennsylvania and overlap with P. fusiformes. We can differentiate between the two by looking at the color of the “eggs”, aka the volva, from which the stinkhorns erupt. The eggs on our specimen, above, are grey while the more southern C. columnatus has white eggs.
Further, teasing apart the tentacles from the vulva to see if the arms are fused at the bottom is helpful for northeastern stinkhorn identification. Our P. fusiformes has fused arms while C. columnatus has separate arms that can separate from each other. There’s also a species, Clathrus archeri aka the octopus stinkhorn, that is red and the tentacles typically peel back at the top (to resemble an octopus).
We’re finally getting some rain - a nice change of pace from last summer. Speaking of which, this summer will begin for many with the solstice on Wednesday morning at 10:58 AM eastern. Make a point to check because this will be the shortest your shadow is all year,
1) Kuo, M. (2021, August). Pseudocolus fusiformis. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/pseudocolus_fusiformis.html
4) Kuo, M. (2020, July). Clathrus columnatus. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/clathrus_columnatus.html