|Major Groups > Stinkhorns > Lysurus corallocephalus|
by Michael Kuo
I usually laugh when people tell me they are disgusted by stinkhorns. Just this week, for example, one e-mail correspondent told me that "stinkhorns are really revolting" and another turned up her nose at the idea of taking a more detailed photo because "this is not a nice mushroom." The phallic nature of stinkhorns may have something to do with it. Mycologist Nicholas Money (2002) tells us that "Charles Darwin's daughter Etty so despised stinkhorns that she mounted an antifungal jihad with the aid of gloves and a pointed stick," and that "[s]he burned the collections in secret, thereby protecting the purity of thought among her female servants." One wonders what Etty would have done had she encountered these specimens in her garden. But if you are laughing at Etty's Victorian (as opposed to contemporary) sensibilities, I should let you know that I regularly receive e-mails in which the photographed stinkhorns are being held with rubber gloves and/or being skewered at arm's length with one of those two-pronged garden tools.
That said, when Charlotte Whitaker in South Africa sent me the photos to the right in a "What's This Mushroom?" e-mail, I had to laugh at myself, too, since I was repulsed. Lysurus corallocephalus is truly gruesome. It looks like a gnarly, aborted form of Aseröe rubra, something out of Etty Darwin's--and my own--worst nightmares. Much to her credit, Charlotte's e-mail was quite neutral about the thing, and she merely asked for help identifying it. A trip through stinkhorn literature produced an identification, and though this site is dedicated to North American mushrooms, Lysurus corallocephalus is just too funky not to share with my readers. And besides, stinkhorns are notorious for popping up where they are not expected, often facilitated by (and even transported across oceans by) human activity, so perhaps it will show up some day in the North American tropics.
Ecology: Probably saprobic; growing alone or gregariously in a variety of habitats (Dring  lists the following for specimens examined: "on soil in maize field," "under Pithecolobium," "Old Calabar botanic garden," "in Acacia xanthophaea woodland," "Bamboo forest c. 7000 ft," "edge of cultivated field and natural woodland," and "in grass"); subSaharan Africa; year-round.
Fruiting Body: At first a pale "egg" up to 4 cm across; emerging to form a stem and a head. Stem more or less cylindrical; hollow; up to 12 cm long; whitish to yellowish or pinkish; terminating in a volva. Head scarlet, with branches arranged around polygonal meshes; the branches simple or forked, up to 3 mm wide and 2 cm long; covered with olive-brown spore slime.
Microscopic Features: Spores 3.5-4.5 x 1.5-2 µ; more or less elliptical.
Kalchbrennera corallocephala is a synonym.
Cite this page as:
Kuo, M. (2006, November). Lysurus corallocephalus. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/lysurus_corallocephalus.html