Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus)

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Newly emerged stinkhorn
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Stinkhorn fact file

Stinkhorn description

KingdomFungi
PhylumBasidiomycota
ClassBasidiomycetes
OrderPhallales
FamilyPhallaceae
GenusPhallus (1)

Its terrible foetid smell as well as an unmistakable appearance makes the stinkhorn one of the most easily recognised species of fungi (2). Young fruit bodies (the visible part of the fungus) are known as 'eggs', and have often been confused with real eggs. The phallic mature fruit body grows extremely rapidly from the egg, taking just 1 and a half hours to reach full size in one recorded case. The conical cap is olive green in colour and rapidly becomes slimy, developing an unpleasant smell; it has a honeycombed appearance (2).

WARNING: Many species of fungus are poisonous or contain chemicals that can cause sickness. Never pick and eat any species of fungus that you cannot positively recognise or are unsure about. Some species are deadly poisonous and can cause death within a few hours if swallowed.

Size
Young fruiting body (egg) diameter: 3-4 cm (2)
Mature fruiting body cap height: 4.5-11 cm (2)
Mature fruiting body cap diameter: 3-5 cm (2)
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Stinkhorn biology

Fungi are neither plants nor animals but belong to their own kingdom. They are unable to produce their own food through the process of photosynthesis, as plants do; instead, they acquire nutrients from living or dead plants, animals, or other fungi, as animals do. In many larger fungi (lichens excepted) the only visible parts are the fruit bodies, which arise from a largely unseen network of threads called 'hyphae'. These hyphae permeate the fungus's food source, which may be soil, leaf litter, rotten wood, dung, and so on, depending on the species (3).

The fruit bodies of the stinkhorn may grow solitarily or in groups, and are present from July to November (2). The young fruit bodies are edible, and are said to taste of peas (3); they can be eaten fried and are treated as a delicacy in Germany. The mysterious appearance of these 'eggs' led to the widespread belief that they were witches eggs or eggs of the Devil (2). Stinkhorns have been used in love potions and aphrodisiacs because of their phallic appearance, and to treat epilepsy, gout and rheumatism in central Europe. Some birds, snails and flies eat the mucous produced by the cap. Stinkhorn spores have been found in fly and bird dung; spores have been known to germinate inside flies, and the hyphae of the fungus grow outwards from the dead body of the fly (2).

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Stinkhorn range

Common throughout much of Europe; it is common in North America to the west of the Mississippi, but becomes rare in the east. It is also found in south-east Australia (2).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Stinkhorn habitat

Found in broadleaved and coniferous woodlands (3) and parks, where it is associated with rotten wood (4). It also occurs in gardens, and cemeteries (2).

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Stinkhorn status

Widespread (3).

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Stinkhorn threats

This fungus is not threatened.

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Stinkhorn conservation

No conservation action has been targeted at this species.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Find out more

For more information on British fungus, see:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Fruit body
In fungi, the fruit body is the visible part of the fungus which bears spores (microscopic particles involved in both dispersal and reproduction).
Photosynthesis
Metabolic process characteristic of plants in which carbon dioxide is broken down, using energy from sunlight absorbed by the green pigment chlorophyll. Organic compounds are made and oxygen is given off as a by-product.
Spores
Microscopic particles involved in both dispersal and reproduction. They comprise a single or group of unspecialised cells and do not contain an embryo, as do seeds.
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References

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (Jan 2003):
    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
  2. Dickinson, C. and Lucas, J. (1979) The encyclopedia of mushrooms. Orbis Publishing, London.
  3. Courteciusse, R. (1999) Mushrooms of Britain and Europe. Harper Collins Publishers, London.
  4. Jordan, M. (1995) The encyclopedia of fungi of Britain and Europe. David and Charles, Devon.
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Image credit

Newly emerged stinkhorn  
Newly emerged stinkhorn

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