Sunday, September 5, 2010

Stench

A beautiful sunlit glade in the Gaunless Valley in County Durham, on an idyllic late summer afternoon ...... and there's a sickly stench drifting down-wind. A decaying corpse? Sewage? No, just ..........

..... a stinkhorn toadstool Phallus impudicus, with an attendant swamp of bluebottles, protruding through the wood sorrel leaves. That netted cap of the fungus is coated with a gelatinous mass of brown, sticky spores when it first reaches maturity, but by the time I found this one the flies, attracted by the evil smell, had either eaten them already or carried most of them away on their feet. Stinkhorn spores can pass through a fly's gut without harm and are dispersed in their droppings.

John Ramsbottom, in his classic Mushrooms and Toadstools in the New Naturalist series, published in 1953, relates several entertaining anecdotes about stinkhorns. "The stinkhorn is often the cause of needless anxiety about sanitation", he observes, and mentions how he was able to pinpoint the fungus as the cause of noxious smells that were ruining the business of a tea room on the Norfolk coast. He also mentions that in a letter to The Times in 1865 the correspondent put forward the theory that the fungus could cause cholera and similar epidemics. Of more interest to the naturalist, he relates how the fungus is very attractive to slugs, that can detect the smell from a distance of 'six or seven yards away", on account of their ultra-sensitive antennae. Apparently they visit the fungus at night and help to disperse the spores by eating them. Rather them than me.....

12 comments:

  1. You get better and better, informative as always but also entertaining. They do have an appalling reek though. Wonder how long it will be before my lap top can dispense the last two senses of touch and smell............As well it can't for this post.

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  2. Ah yes, the impudent prick! We have these and some other stinkhorns around here too. I do like to see them. They aren't exactly rare, but they are fairly ephemeral so the window of opportunity is small.

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  3. Very intersting.How well you write! I have never come across stinkhorns here, but I have seen some other stinkers.

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  4. Wonderfully informative post Phil and what a great set of accompanying pics. The first pic of the woodland interior is beautiful. Linda

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  5. Informative and entertaining as always Phil.
    That first shot is a cracker.

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  6. Hi Adrian, in their young stages, when they are about the size and shape of a hen's egg, they don't have any smell and at that stage they're supposed to be edible........

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  7. Hi Wilma, yep, one way or another they're hard to ignore...

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  8. Hi lotusleaf, there are a few other members of the family here, including one called Clathrus ruber, which I've only found once, which is like a pink cage lined with gooey brown spores..

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  9. Hi Linda, it's an interesting piece of woodland that I haven't visited before, planted on a site of old abandoned lead and coal mines.

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  10. Hi Keith, bracken always looks at it's best at this time of year, especially in a few eeks time when it turns from green to gold...

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  11. It crossed my mind that if I searched your blog, Phil, I would find a Stinkhorn for reference. I went out on Tuesday looking for fungi and found a small selection including two which I am certain were Stinkhorns but with no smell and not much of a 'head'. I think they must have been passed their best or just fresh - the stipes were still very white but entirely sponge-like. Also, they were well hidden under a dense cover of bracken. I'll be posting the pictures soon.

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  12. Hi Emma, Definitely sounds like stinkhorns that were past their best. Once the brown goo has been taken by flies they deteriorate rapidly ..... and the slugs soon move in too. C.T.Ingold, the famous mycologist who died recently at the grand age of 104, once recorded that all of the spore-slime had been taken by flies within two and a half hours of the fungus reaching maturity. If you've never read it, Ingold's book called The Biology of Fungi is really worth searching out. Ingold's obituary is at http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/jun/30/terence-ingold-obituary-mycologist

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