Yes Stinkhorn! Otherwise know as phallus impudicus, which seems to love growing on a dry sandy river bank on my allotment, and has been a nice surprise for two years, a little bit of variety. I have always loved fungus, and find them fascinating, so when one pops up on my allotment I feel privileged.
I’ve been fighting a patch of Japanese Knotweed for 5 years, and slowly getting the better of it, and the Stinkhorn grows in the same places as the failing Knotweed. Maybe it’s a coincidence, I don’t know, but it seems to pop up where the knotweed used to be, and doesn’t occur where the knotweed is still strong. The Stinkhorn’s normal habitat is described as ‘being associated with buried rotting wood’ so maybe the fungus mycelium sees the rotting knotweed as food.
Where does the name come from?
‘Stink’, as in smell, and ‘horn’, an old English word for an erection, so ‘smelly erection’ if you prefer, or ‘smelly willy’.
It’s smelly in order to attract flies which feast on the greeny, brown sticky stuff at the top, which is actually a coating of spores. Recognition books will tell you that the smell replicates the odour of dead animals but clearly the authors have never come across a dead animal on their travels. The smell undoubtedly attracts flies, and slugs, but it isn’t unpleasant at all, in fact I quite like it, despite it being described as ‘disgusting’ by some authors. I think they have led sheltered lives.
A feast for local flies who spread the spores far and wide.
If you can smell the Stinkhorn then the fungus is usually within about 30 feet, or 10 metres of you, and it will be upwind. Their distinctive smell, combined with their bright white stems, makes them easy to find. It is very common and if you find one there will be more around, but possibly at a different stage of development.
The fungus erupts from an egg like structure which is full of a gelatinous substance and has a thin white, leathery skin. It can erupt overnight.
All the stages in one shot. The egg is about to erupt on the right. Next to it the stinkhorn has erupted and still has brown/green spores on the cap. On the far left the spores have all been eaten by flies, and next to it, an older stem has collapsed and been eaten by slugs.
The fungus is actually edible at the egg stage but it cannot claim to be tasty. If you cut an ‘egg’ in half you will find a brown core, just like an egg yolk, surrounded by protective jelly. Only the brown core is edible as the jelly like substance seems to be virtually indestructible. The core lacks the smell at the egg stage. I have tried boiling, frying and baking and nothing happens to the jelly, it just clings to the core. Somebody should do some research on it as it would make a perfect heat shield. So you have to scrape off the jelly before you cook the centre.
It’s a lot of hard work for something which doesn’t actually taste very good, but for survival purposes it’s excellent because it’s very common, easy to recognise, full of protein, and if you find one then there’ll be more in the area, so very easy to find and harvest.
Watch a short video about the Stinkhorn >
The erect stem lifted from the open remains of the ‘egg’. Half the spores have been eaten and there is slug damage on the stem.