An example of “Xylaria polymorpha” aka a mushroom known as “Dead Man’s Fingers.”
Even though I love being outdoors and have hiked my way around much of the Pacific Northwest, I have a deep-rooted fear of bears—and that keeps me from deviating from paths that are not well-worn. Now, thanks to what I’ve recently learned about mushrooms, I’m also afraid of running into some of the bizarre fungi that grow in the woods. Bleck! For this post, I’m going to showcase four different types of mushrooms that for very good reasons have earned the following names; “Dead Man’s Fingers,” the nightmarish “Bleeding Tooth,” the “Brain” mushroom, and one that should need no real introduction at all, the “Common stinkhorn” which looks just like a penis. For the record, I’ve never seen any of these natural abominations in the wild, and I’d love to keep it that way. Now, here are a few gross facts about each weird shroom.
“Dead Man’s Fingers” are unsurprisingly as bad as they sound. And not because ingesting them will result in a long strange trip, but because the appearance of this fungus at the base of a tree means that it is quite literally breaking down the structure of the tree which results in soft rot. In other words, Dead Man’s Fingers (aka Xylaria polymorpha) are tree-murdering mushrooms though it is said that they are edible. Good luck with that. As gross as those mushrooms are, the “Bleeding Tooth,” (Hydnellu Peckii) fungus looks like something Dr. Seuss might have had nightmares about. The Bleeding Tooth secretes a dark red liquid which as you may have guessed, makes it appear to be “bleeding.” The non-toxic fungus is quite useful as it possesses the naturally occurring chemical, atromentin which is said to work quite well as an antibacterial and anticoagulant. (It’s a dessert topping and a floor wax.)
As if going to the dentist wasn’t enough of a drag, here’s a species of mushroom known as “Bleeding Tooth.”
Gyromitra esculenta or “Brain” mushroom is somewhat common fungus, and highly toxic. But that doesn’t stop people from eating them despite the risks associated with ingestion that include vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, dizziness and sometimes (though rarely) coma and death. Brain mushrooms are quite popular in Finland and are sold with extensive warning labels because even boiling them in water will causes the chemical gyromitrin (the stuff that might kill you in a Brain mushroom) vaporize which can make you sick just by breathing too much of it. Yikes.
Lastly, I give you the “Common stinkhorn” or the Phallus impudicus—the mushroom that looks like just like a dick. The stinky horns allegedly smell wretched and toward the end of their lifecycle the produce a nasty looking dark-colored goop out of the top of their “heads.” Regardless of what appear to be warning signs to stay the fuck away from them, the stinkhorns are eaten widely across Germany and France. The mythology around the distinct-looking mushroom includes its use as a “love potion” in medieval times for somewhat obvious reasons. I’ve posted photos of all the funky fungus discussed in this post below—some images are slightly NSFW.
A Gyromitra esculenta or “Brain” mushroom.
A “Common stinkhorn” or “Phallus impudicus” in the wild.
Dead Man’s Fingers. More images of the disturbing mushroom follow.
“Bleeding Tooth” mushroom.
The big show-off “Common stinkhorn” or “Phallus impudicus” mushroom.