Top 5 weirdest mushrooms (from the Stinkhorn Family)

With an estimated 5.1 million species of fungi in the world, this kingdom certainly has a fair share of quirky relatives. Today, you will meet five of them.

These supernatural-looking shrooms all belong to one bizarre family called the Stinkhorns.

Some Stinkhorns look like Alien superfood. Some look like they belong in the underworld with Hades. Others look like a tiny dinosaur egg, but instead of giving you cute baby Littlefoot, a rotten piece of slimy shellfish emerges.

*Insert gag reflex* (it won’t be the last)

Even weirder, all Stinkhorns start in an “egg” form. Then they “hatch” and grow into adults in just a few hours.

And — no surprises here — they stanky. No one wants to hang out with them.

But you know what? Stinkhorns don’t care if you like them. They’re glad you don’t — because flies do like them, and they are way more fun to party with.

That’s because flies even help carry on the Stinkhorn legacy by having dance parties on their glossy gleba (the shiny part of the ‘shrooms, as you’ll see below). Then they go to other dance parties and spread the spore-abundant gleba, where even more smelly kids are born.

Now aren’t you super stoked to meet 5 of the Stinkhorns?

Great! Here they are! I’ll even start you off gently with the one (and only) elegant mushroom in the bunch.

1. The Veiled Lady or Bamboo Fungus (Phallus indusiatus)

Wanna see a time-lapse of how the veiled lady grows? Watch it here.

This one keeps it classy by showing up in a lacy dress (in an cross-dressing, Corpse Bride kind of way). Her cap resembles the esteemed morel, but a shiny gloss and white web distinguishes her quickly.

Unlike her ugly Stinkhorn cousins, the Veiled Lady is used in various dishes around the world.

According Anca Cherecheș the “egg” is pickled and considered a delicacy in China. In other parts of the West, it offers a nice honeycombed treat to the plate. Mixing the dried versions with enough chicken stock will also add a nice umami flavoring to a soup.

2. The Starfish Stinkhorn or Sea Anemone Fungus (Aseröe rubra)

Photo by Tomas Sobek

My inspiration for this entire post was inspired by a curious idea to research “mushrooms in Hawaii.” Luckily, that search lead me to this funky dude.

Like most mushrooms, the Starfish Stinkhorn is aptly named. The cap is bright red and star-shaped, anchored by a hollow, melon-colored stalk.

Other proposed nicknames might include something like “the fun-sized killer shrimp puppet from Beetle Juice" or “baby octopus with lobster claws being swallowed upside down by a Chinese finger trap”.

As for its edibility — it’s not considered poisonous, but it is definitely not showing up on your pizza anytime soon. Y’all are going to have to stick with smelly sardines instead.

3. The Latticed stinkhorn or the Red cage (Clathrus ruber)

A latticed stinkhorn in its “infancy”
An aged latticed stinkhorn, aka “the red cage”

Just like the other Stinkhorns, the latticed stinkhorn starts out looking like an chicken’s egg. When it “hatches” you will find cerebral orange matter inside, like a pruny grapefruit that soaked in a hot tub for way too long. As it matures the orange color deepens and it takes on a branchy structure.

Real talk though — as it ages, doesn’t it almost look like a mushroom you could beer-batter and fry alongside calamari rings for a little fritto misto action?

Well don’t.. because while they jury’s out on it’s edibility, the moment it’s “garbaceous” aroma reaches your nose, you’ll easily be deterred. I’m told its aroma is similar to that of rotting flesh.

So um… yeah no thanks. I’ll just have the calamari.

4. Devil’s dipstick (Mutinus elegans)

Are you blushing yet?

You have to admit—the name for this one is so forthright that it doesn’t need anymore nicknames. Based on the appearance alone the Devil’s Dipstick is loaded with endless opportunities for dirty jokes.

Buuut I’m not falling into that trap. Not today!

And yes, it’s because Mom’s reading (Hi Mom!).

What I can tell you is that I first learned about this mushroom when I came across this incredibly comprehensive and humorous dissertation by Sveta Yamin-Pasternak, who gives a fascinating look at the social, historical and ethnological comparison of mushrooms in Russia, across the Bering Strait to Alaska. Her work is an elaborate showcase of just how deep and complex this mushroom topic actually gets.

5. Devil’s Tooth or The Bleeding Hydnellum (Hydnellum peckii)

I saved the worst for last.

I don’t care how much I nerd out about mushrooms. This one gives me the creeps! The picture alone might be hard for those with Trypophobia, so consider this your warning.

The Devil’s tooth, which looks like a disfigured marshmallow sprinkled with the stuff you find in red berry Gushers, is also known by the nickname (coined by what I believe must be a super-optimist) “strawberries and cream”.

When young, it seeps bright red droplets that look like you may have stumbled over a miniature crime scene. These droplets contain Atromentin, which have blood thinner properties similar to heparin.

Pharmaceutical-grade heparin, by the way, is used to prevent and treat blood clots and is derived from pig intestines or the lungs of a cow. This means mushrooms have more in common with us and other animals than we might think.

Fascinating right? (And also strangely terrifying.)

While the Devil’s Tooth has been deemed edible, no one wants to eat it because it’s so bitter. And probably because there is something creepy about a mushroom that looks like it’s bleeding.

Reason enough for me!

Disclaimer: Many species of fungus are poisonous! Some species cause serious illness; others are deadly and can cause death within a few hours if ingested. Never pick and eat any species of fungus that you cannot positively recognize or are unsure about.