Garden News Blog

Nastiest. Mushroom. Ever.

An alarming fungus is popping up quick
Called elegant stinkhorn or the devil’s dipstick

As distasteful to the nose as it is to the eyes
Its odor’s designed to attract pesky flies

Insects feed on the slimy stalk
And spread its spores around the block

A member of family Phallaceae and Mutinus genus
Most would agree that it looks like a…


It’s that time of year again. The air is crisp, the leaves are beginning to turn, and gardeners and park visitors all over Brooklyn are gasping in horror at the shockingly erect—and putrid smelling—stalks poking out of the mulch. Mutinus elegans, a very distinctive species of mushroom, is showing up in shady, damp mulch and compost piles in parks, gardens, and backyards. This phallic fungus, known as the elegant stinkhorn, dog stinkhorn, or devil’s dipstick, is stinky for a reason. Its smell is important for its unusual means of distributing spores.

Unlike typical mushrooms, which depend on wind to distribute their spores, the stinkhorn uses insects. After sprouting from an egglike bulb, the orange or red stalks produce a slimy, carrion-scented spore coating near the tip. Flies are attracted to the scent, and after feeding on it, they fly off and dispense the spores wherever they land. Should your garden be afflicted with stinkhorns, take comfort in the fact that their reign is pretty short-lived. They’re not poisonous, so you can just let them be, and those spongy, hollow stalks will shrivel a day or two after their quick growth spurt.

More: Learn about jimson weed, a beautiful, notoriously toxic, surprisingly common weed.

Today, the appearance of Mutinus elegans elicits a chuckle, but in the Victorian era, their erect shoots could be seriously distressing to chaste and honorable ladies. The story goes that Charles Darwin’s eldest daughter, Etty, was openly combative toward the fungi. Armed with a spear, she would roam the woods sniffing out the offensive stalks. As recalled by her niece, she would find one and “poke his putrid carcass into her basket.” Then, after cleansing the territory, she would secretly burn the fungi in order to protect “the morals of the maids.”

Etty would probably not appreciate Cornell University’s time-lapse video of a stinkhorn’s growth and decay, but you might!

Hannah Singer is a science intern at BBG.

    Discussion

  • Gail B September 17, 2016

    Just found these in my garden and am glad they are not poisonous.
    Sort of a “cute” addition and lots better than the usual white or beige mushrooms I usually find this time of year in Lenexa, Kansas.

  • Shannon September 17, 2016

    These are coming up in the front yard in the mulch. Had no clue what the were. We will be getting rid of them. I don’t like the looks of them.

  • Kat September 5, 2016

    I live in Columbus, Ohio, and just found these in my garden and it’s sept.!

  • Dianna September 1, 2016

    I have two growing in my flower bed and it makes me Happy!! This is the first time I laid eyes on them. They are beautiful and hope that they come back every year! They really play into my love of Halloween! ♥

  • butterfly queen July 24, 2016

    No need to herbicide or salt. These are only creepy looking and not harming the environment, whereas herbicide and “salting the earth” are surely problems.

  • Linda June 30, 2016

    I kept getting these in my yard - stinky buggers they are. I tried getting rid of them by digging them up and when that didn’t work tried using a broad spectrum herbicide (which didn’t work either). I finally resorted to salting the spot where they were growing: that kills them and I don’t have them returning to those spots. If they were on my property I did the salt treatment immediately. I haven’t seen one on my yard or a neighbor’s yard since I used the salt treatment, probably for more than five or six years now.

  • Judith Alkhas May 3, 2016

    Being 74, I felt honored to view this most unusual fungus for the first time in my life. I thought someone had dropped a bag of carrots under my roses.

  • Emil Fischer July 7, 2015

    This fungus gave my wife and I a chuckle when we first saw them. At times though, you can’t even tell what it is with all the flies covering them.

     

  • Blanca Oliveras December 1, 2014

    My schitzu dogs are eating them in my backyard. Are elegant stinkhorns toxic to dogs?

  • sarah October 28, 2014

    I am genuinely surprised by the lack of appreciation for stinkhorns.  I delight in them, and after years of exposure to the “aroma,” I really like it: It’s fresh, unusual, not at all putrid. To my senses, it’s really not offensive.

  • Donald September 27, 2014

    We have been seeing these in the mulch; had five pop up this morning. Thanks for the info.

  • eleanor davis May 11, 2013

    I have white mushrooms coming up. Will these also just disappear in a day or two? If not, what can I do to rid my garden of them?

  • Steven N. Severinghaus October 19, 2012

    I’m glad to see a post about these fascinating little things. I have been seeing them in various states of growth and decay among the leaf debris and mulch around BBG for the last couple of weeks:
    Flickr pics

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Image, top of page:
Mutinus elegans, a very distinctive species of mushroom, is showing up in shady, damp mulch and compost piles in parks, gardens, and backyards. Photo by Kathryn Glass.