A Mycological Paradox

I recently found some small red fungi growing straight out of the ground surrounded by flies in the leaf litter in my backyard. I had absolutely no clue what it was. It was unlike any other kind of jelly fungi or shelf or typical mushroom I had ever seen. Looking it up in The National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Mushrooms of North America, I discovered the tiny fingers with a dark substance oozing from the top are Elegant Stinkhorns – Mutinus elegans.

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Elegant Stinkhorn

The slimy substance, or gleba, at the top of the fungus contains its spores. Feeding on this substance, flies help disseminate these spores. The gleba smells putrid, which is why I want to know the motives of the person who named this fungus “Elegant Stinkhorn.” Sure, this is a fascinating specimen, but I would struggle to call it elegant.

This fungus is saprobic, meaning it receives nutrients by breaking down dead organic matter. There is a white cup around the base called the volva and each individual is attached to the ground by a small white string. Regardless of its terrible odor, this was quite an amazing find!

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