Halloween Special 1 – The Witches Egg

stinkhorn-identification

In the spirit of  Halloween which is closing in, I thought I’d add an entry about this intriguing and somewhat phallic fungus. At it’s peak (excuse the pun!) this time of year and in full bloom you can smell this beauty from quite a way off. The ‘pong’ is quite unpleasant but not altogether offensive. But you certainly do notice it, even when you can’t see it!

Smelly FungusThe Witches Egg (or more commonly known as) Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) initially shows itself as an ‘egg shape’ form in the ground from summer to late autumn, found in most woods and is very common. The egg sack pokes out of the ground and is half buried in the soil. It literally looks like a freshly shelled hard boiled egg planted right in the soil!

The egg sack is quite soft and has a gelatinous feel about it (which would be the jelly like layer beneath). This young stage of the fungus is said to be edible but not highly rated, and I haven’t bothered yet. It’s also said to be a good aphrodisiac – but that’s surely some mad guy making it up because it looks like a ‘you-know-what’ (when fully grown of course)!

It’s probably the same guy who had the enormous fun of scientifically naming this species – ‘Phallus impudicus’! Which, as you can probably guess, translates to something like ‘shameless’ and ‘penis like’. It’s the rudest of all the fungi out there to be sure! But the phallic shape is only shown in its true glory when fully mature.

The egg soon breaks apart, showing the gloopy goo inside. That’s when you start getting the smell ‘eeking’ its way out. After time, as it grows, the adult specimen shows its familiar shape which can grow up to 25cm high. But on average you’re looking at around 14cm. And now the smell is quite obvious. There are many ways to describe it, but I’d say it’s almost ‘chemical like’, nicely mixed in with raw sewage! But fear not – it’s not too potent but potent enough, if you know what I mean.

The tip (or head) has a distinctive ‘bell shape’ (no filthy jokes please) that exudes spores from the tip! The head of the fungus is initially dark olive/black with the stinking spores. These are soon devoured and spread by insects in only a few days, leaving an unmistakable white honey comb pattern with raised ribs.

As you can see in the pictures below, it’s last days are quite dramatic. Like from some kind of horror movie, it gracefully (and wierdly) dissolves back into the earth from whence it came. It is a truly a fantastic fungus worthy of a halloween highlight. Look out (a smell out) for them this autumn.

Stinkhorn egg sack and mature stinkhoorn fungus

Left: A Stinkhorn egg breaking open and a fully mature Stinkhorn. Right: The head of the fungus is initially dark olive/black with sticky, stinking goo (see picture at the beginning of this post). This goo attracts flies, who in turn spread the spores to another place. Eventually it will be stripped of all this slime and leave a white ‘honeycomb’ tip, as seen here.

Dying Stinkhorn

End of days. A dying Stinkhorn as it dissolves back into the earth

  1. susanne

    Well least we now know what we’ve got growing in our garden. First popped up a few days ago and we can’t believe the speed in which they emerge. They are springing up in several clusters through some of our wood chip in our raised beds. How long will they last for and should we expect to see them again each year?

    November 1st, 2010 // Reply
    • J C Harris

      Hi Susanne. Stinkhorns can grow in gardens as well as woods. They are associated with rotting wood which is sometimes buried beneath the soil. Check to see if you have rotting wood deeper in the soil. If not, the organism was probably laying dormant in the wood chip! It happens with other species. I can’t tell you if it would return or not. It depends where the mycelium is living – on buried dead wood or the wood chip. Good luck.

      November 3rd, 2010 // Reply
  2. Adam

    Nice photographs and write up! I saw (and smelled) these for the first time recently.

    November 2nd, 2010 // Reply
    • J C Harris

      Thanks Adam – pretty wierd aren’t they? Look out for the Dog Stinkhorn. A smaller version with a black tip (and a red mark on top of the black)

      November 3rd, 2010 // Reply
  3. Fugus Fun

    Excellent photos! I get these in the garden every here in Canada, but they’re the red variety.

    January 21st, 2011 // Reply
  4. J C Harris

    Thank you for the kind comment. I’ve seen some pictures of the red variety you mentioned – they are truly fascinating – and weird!

    January 24th, 2011 // Reply
  5. Denise Long

    I have the blackheaded red variety…am I to be blessed with these fellows for very long..it is summer here and they are coming up all over where I have put wood mulch and cane mulch…I think I will rename my home the house of stench!!!!!how can I get these beautiful terrible smelling, but fascinating fungi out of my garden or at least from around the house…..hope you can help me…

    February 3rd, 2012 // Reply
  6. J C Harris

    Hi Denise, your problem with these fascinating fungi is a pretty common one. There is no quick or easy solution to getting rid of any fungus. I have heard and read about many ways on how to kill a Stinkhorn funus.

    You may have already trawled the internet for answers, but I can recommend a couple of web pages that may prove helpful. One is a forum of people with ideas, pleas and experiences. Take a look here: http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/north/msg0819312914442.html

    There is another simple answer site, but how effective it is, I can’t say. The link is as follows: http://www.wikihow.com/Kill-a-Stinkhorn-Fungus

    This is the best advise I can offer (see Susans comment above) and I hope you have some luck in making your home smell sweeter!

    Best wishes,
    John

    February 3rd, 2012 // Reply

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