As you can plainly see, these mushrooms are not usually a subject of discussion in polite society. But a friend called me over the other day with "You've got to see this. What is it?"
It was a stinkhorn, Ravenel's stinkhorn (Phallus ravenelii) actually, a mushroom that decorates our nicely manicured, mulched areas with its unwanted aroma and appearance around this time of year. It grows on decaying wood and frequently hitches a ride in newly spread mulch.
There are many different types of mushrooms besides the familiar variety found in the supermarket. The ones in the supermarket are gill mushrooms, producing their spores from the gills on the underside of the cap. Stinkhorns are different. Their spores are in the smelly slime, in this case coating the top of the cap. The foul-smelling slime attracts flies which carry the spores away, spreading the stinkhorn.
Stinkhorns grow rapidly, often appearing suddenly overnight, as if out of nowhere. They have a bizarre assortment of unusual shapes, some looking like aliens from outer space. Not all of them have the distinctive shape of our Ravenel's stinkhorn.
"Are they edible?" my friend asked. "You can't be serious", I responded. Who would want to have anything to do with such a foul-smelling thing? Well, it turns out that some varieties can be found dried in Chinese markets and are even considered a delicacy by some. I however can't recommend them and furthermore do not recommend eating any fungus that you find in the woods. Properly identifying mushrooms can be tricky, and there are too many stories of experts misidentifying mushrooms and getting sick or worse.
Mother said to leave the toadstools alone and she knew what she was talking about. They're interesting to look at, but if you don't know what they are, leave them where you found them.