by Christine Cook
On Friday, March 28th, a few of us were clearing trees and brush at Kachina Prairie in Ennis, in the process making huge tangled brush piles for the native residents. In between waiting for branches and trunks to be severed and hauled to the nearest pile site, I was working on removing basal rosettes of the invasive nodding thistle (Carduus nutans). Moving in ever-widening concentric circles, I was building up my own little piles of debris, alert to the ground for the next thorny victim.
In my periphery I saw a pink color where I knew nothing was blooming. I looked more closely and almost laughed at this most unexpected object: a spongy-looking pink phallic fungal structure somewhere between 3-5 inches in height with a white conical tip. Encasing the top 1-1 ½ inch or so of the stalk immediately below the cone was a layer of mucilaginous goo that apparently attracted carrion flies. Aha—it was a stinkhorn fungus! I only knew this because years ago I had researched one that had appeared in my front yard.
I immediately whipped out my phone and went to the Internet (and to fungi field guides later) and learned a few details. Stinkhorns are in a group called Ascomycetes or spore sac fungi, as also are the more well-known and eaten morels. Stinkhorns grow from a more ground level, egg-shaped structure (looks like a small white puffball) and are found in gardens, lawns, brushy places and woods. They may have a stinky rotting odor. The phallus is hollow and supposedly edible. The green-brownish slime layer contains the spores and is often removed by the insects that are attracted to the disagreeable smell. Since I am no ID expert, this specimen from Kachina Prairie (see photo) could be a sample of one of three Mutinus species: M. caninus (dog stinkhorn), M. elegans, or M. ravenelii.
That’s the short scoop for the science; now for the opinion and the parting shot! This fungus is a rather novel and quite interesting bit of the world we share. It has a shape maybe eliciting a small embarrassed giggle but then is worth some admiration for its manner of passing the genes along. Come join us on Kachina Prairie workdays–Nature is always full of surprises! You never know when you might meet a fun guy, oops, I mean fungi…
Internet: search stinkhorn fungus
Mushrooms and Other Fungi of North America, Roger Phillips, Firefly Books 2010
The Field Guide to Mushrooms, Marie Heerkens, Sterling Publ., 2003
Do you think nature should be part of our everyday life, not just somewhere to go on the weekends? You are invited to attend our free, open-to-the-public, monthly program on the fourth Monday of the month at 7 pm at the First United Methodist Church 505 W. Marvin Ave. Waxahachie, Texas 75165. For more information on the Indian Trail Master Naturalist Chapter, contact the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at 972-825-5175 or visit our website: https://txmn.org/indiantrail/.