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Stinkhorn Fungus - November 9, 2007

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I was first exposed to this thanks to Bob Warren of physical plant at BCC South Campus.  Bob was always on the lookout for unusual things for the BCC collection of plants, animals and fungi.  When he brought this in, I knew immediately it was related to the stinkhorn fungi, a member of the division Basidiomycota (like the Bird’s Nest Fungus).  The reason was the smell.  These fungi attract flies by producing an aroma of rotted meat!  After a little investigation, I identified it as Clathrus crispus, sometimes called the whiffle-ball fungus.  The species is common to Florida and the southeastern United States.  It’s often found in flower beds in the mulch, again like Bird’s Nest Fungus.  

A couple of years ago, a friend called me about some eggs she found in her flower bed.  They were leathery in texture.  Some looked as though they had broken open and she saw “blood” everywhere.  She was concerned some animal had laid  eggs in her flowers and something else was destroying them.  After a little conversation with her, I figured out she was talking about Clathrus.  I emailed her a picture and she realized it was exactly what she was seeing in her flowers. 

The reason I was able to show her the picture was I found them in my own flower bed in the mulch.  They really do produce a stink and you can smell it quite well on a hot, still summer night.  Flies really do flock to it and walk all over the red lattice structure.  What they don’t know is it’s the way the fungus reproduces.  As the flies walk over the slimy lattice, spores ooze out to the surface and get attached to the flies.  When the fly then lands on another surface, the spores are deposited to produce new fungi. It’s a great means of spore dispersal.

As the fungus begins to pop above the ground, they really do look like eggs -  particularly very large lizard eggs which have a leathery covering instead of a hard calcium carbonate shell like chicken eggs.  The fungal fruiting body is found within and is full of spores. 

These photos were taken on August 18th, 2005 and I suspect you can find these in your flower beds anywhere from August to October in southeastern Florida.

© Fred Searcy 2017