Stinkhorn Clathrus crispus eggs
"The "eggs" that will soon put forth
a Lattice Stinkhorn."
you are mulching your garden regularly with chipped tree trimmings from
your favorite tree service, you feel good at the fact that all of that
mulch is being kept out of the landfill and being put to good use by recycling
it into nutrients for your plants. The micro-flora and fauna that live
around the plant roots are happy and thriving while imparting nutrients
to the plants and keeping the pressure on plant pathogenic organisms.
So one morning you take a walk outside to enjoy the cooler temperature
and humic scent given off by all of those hard working bacteria that are
helping to decompose that organic material. You then happen upon this
bright red sponge-like thing lying in the mulch that looks like it just
came in from outer space. Suddenly you are not only marveling at this
garish glob but notice an odor that smells like the bottom of an old wet
garbage can. Oh, and what’s with all the flies zipping around?
Lattice Stinkhorn Clathrus crispus
with slime "A closeup of the slime
that is so attractive to flies."
that you are in South Florida, the Caribbean or northern South America,
you have just come upon a specimen of Clathrus crispus, one of the tropical
stinkhorn mushrooms. This distinctive group of mushrooms is famous for
popping up in gardens (and flower pots) overnight and attracting every
fly in the neighborhood. The attraction to the flies is of course the
odor which is one of the distinctive characteristics of this group of
mushrooms. At some point in its very brief life of a day, a foul-smelling
nasty slime is generated that attracts the flies. As the flies dine on
the slime, they inadvertently pick up minute stinkhorn spores on their
tiny feet or even eat them. Eventually the flies leave this fine meal
of slime and the spores get dispersed to propagate more stinkhorns. This method of reproduction/distribution is different from most
mushrooms which have their spores dispersed as a dry powder by the wind.
Remember spores for fungi and ferns serve the same function as seeds for
other more advanced groups of plants.
characteristics of the stinkhorns separate them from other fungi: the
slime and the fruiting structure (the colorful part with the slime and
spores) that arises from what appears to be an “egg”. You
will notice these white egg-like structures partially buried in the mulch
for a couple of days. Then one morning the “egg” bursts open
and a stinkhorn emerges in all of its fetid glory. Many species of fungi
are quite edible and I understand that some folks eat these “eggs”
but I couldn’t imagine eating something so nasty and foul smelling
no matter how well-fried.
and Mexico are home to a species of stinkhorn, Clathrus ruber that is
also red and looks similar to ours. And in Cuba and Jamaica, a yellow
stinkhorn known as Clathrus baumii can be found.
you’ve found a stinkhorn or another species, the mushrooms we see
above ground are a very short-lived part of the normal growth of a fungus.
Its only purpose is to serve as a reproductive structure. The actual fungus
is living quite happily below ground where it is busily decomposing woody
and other organic materials. The main body of the fungus is composed of
thread-like structures called mycelium which can be often seen by raking
off a thin layer of mulch that will expose these fungal strands.
Stinkhorn Clathrus crispus
"A Lattice Stinkhorn, Clathrus
crispus in all of its glory, covered
with slime and flies."
Many species of fungi
form symbiotic relationships, known as mycorrhiza, with plants and trees.
Attaching themselves to the roots, the fungi provide the plants with water
and certain nutrients, and receive in turn plant-manufactured nutrients.
There is much scientific evidence that this fungal – plant relationship
greatly benefits the plants, suppressing root pathogens that would otherwise
attack and harm the plants.
Unlike the stinkhorns,
many species of fungi have their reproductive organs below ground. The
truffles that we eat are actually underground fruiting bodies that attract
animals that dig them up to eat. This of course is another method to disperse
spores. The group of fungi that includes the edible truffles are also
well known for their symbiotic mycorrhizal relationships with trees.