This week’s theme of odd mushrooms was inspired by Eric Wright of Key West, Florida, who sent us a picture of an odd fungus growing in his yard that resembles a colorful Wiffle ball. (Yes, we know it’s not an animal, but even fungi need some love.)
We reached out to Debbie Viess, a biologist and co-founder of the Bay Area Mycological Society, who sussed it out as a type of mushroom called Clathrus crispus. Folks in other parts of the United States will find a similar species in Clathrus ruber.
Both are members of the stinkhorn mushroom family, and stink they do—but their foul perfume has a benefit. Flies are attracted to the stench and get covered in spores, which the insects then take to new habitats, thus helping the mushroom reproduce, Viess said.
Clathrus ruber fungi. PHOTOGRAPH BY ALAMY
“It’s really no different than a flower producing scent for a bee”—it’s just the Addams Family version.
And as altogether ooky as they may look, these mushrooms aren’t poisonous, added Tim James, a mycologist at the University of Michigan.
C. crispus doesn’t have a corner on freakiness, though—there are 20,000 described mushroom species with plenty of odd characteristics, some of which we’ve described below.
“A fungus eating a fungus” is how the Bay Area Mycological Society’s Viess describes this fungus, which parasitizes another mushroom, Russula brevipes, using its body as “scaffolding to produce its own spores.”
In fairness, it does get something in return: a pretty orange color and “more flavor, more oomph,” Viess said. And yes, people eat them.
A lobster mushroom gets its vibrant color by parasitizing another mushroom. PHOTOGRAPH BY DEBBIE VIESS.
Bird’s Nest Fungus
As its name suggests, this fungus looks like a tiny bird’s nest—it consists of a little cup, only about 0.4 inch across, that holds its “peridioles,” kind of like a packet of spores, which look like eggs in the nest.
It’s so tiny that a drop of water can dislodge the spores from the cup, causing them to disperse.
Bleeding Tooth Fungus
Viess and James referred to Hydnellum peckii by its sweeter name, strawberries and cream.
This organism excretes a red fluid that looks like blood, the makeup of which James says is unknown. The mushroom contains a red pigment that gives it a pink complexion.
The word tooth in its name refers to the mushroom’s method of spore dispersal—it has teethlike spines that hang down from its underside and release spores.
Who knew a mushroom could look like an organic missile silo?
This mushroom is known to shoot a mass of spores as far as 18 feet. According to the University of Wisconsin’s website, that would be like a person six feet tall throwing a baseball 1.5 miles into the air.
If you have a fungus that you need to figure out, James recommends MushroomExpert.com as an excellent field guide for your mushroom mysteries.
We leave you with a picture of Collybia cirrhata, which grows on the decayed remains of other mushrooms.
Collybia cirrhata mushrooms grow out of the dead black ones. PHOTOGRAPH BY DEBBIE VIESS
Lead Image: The strawberries and cream fungus. PHOTOGRAPH BY DEBBIE VIESS