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Xylaria polymorpha (Dead Man's Fingers)

[ Ascomycetes > Xylariales > Xylariaceae > Xylaria . . . ]

by Michael Kuo

Commonly called "Dead Man's Fingers," this odd mushroom dons a variety of costumes in its rather long life span. When young it is pale (often bluish), with a whitish tip; the pale covering is a coating of asexual spores produced in this early stage of development. Morel hunters frequently encounter Xylaria polymorpha in this form, in early spring. By summer, however, the mushroom begins to blacken, and by late summer or fall it is entirely black and dried out. Somewhere in the middle of this progressive costume change, Xylaria polymorpha does indeed look like a creepy set of "dead man's fingers." By the final stages, however, one is more likely to mistake it for something, um, left by a house cat.

Xylaria polymorpha is the most commonly collected of the large Xylaria species, but the species name is often applied in a broad sense, encompassing several species that are differentiated on microscopic features. See Rogers & Callan, 1986 and Rogers, 1986 for details.


Ecology: Saprobic on decaying hardwood stumps and logs, usually at or near the base; sometimes appearing terrestrial but actually attached to buried wood; growing alone or, more commonly in clusters; causing a soft rot of the wood; appearing in spring and not decaying until late summer or fall.

Fruiting Body: 3-10 cm tall; up to 2.5 cm across; tough; shaped more or less like a club or a finger but occasionally flattened; usually with a rounded tip; at first coated with a pale to bluish or purplish dust of conidia (asexual spores), except at the whitish tip--but soon blackish with a pale tip and eventually black overall; surface becoming minutely pimpled and wrinkled with maturity.

Flesh: Whitish; very tough.

Microscopic Features: Spores 20-31 x 5-10 µ; smooth; widely fusiform; with straight germ slits extending 1/2 to 2/3 of the spore's length.

REFERENCES: (Persoon, 1797) Greville, 1824. (Saccardo, 1882; Dennis, 1968; Smith, Smith & Weber, 1981; Breitenbach & Kränzlin, 1984; Arora, 1986; Rogers, 1986; Rogers & Callan, 1986; Phillips, 1991/2005; Lincoff, 1992; Metzler & Metzler, 1992; Horn, Kay & Abel, 1993; Barron, 1999; Roody, 2003; McNeil, 2006; Miller & Miller, 2006; Rogers, Miller & Vasilyeva, 2008.) Herb. Kuo 05010302, 07120811.

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Xylaria polymorpha

Xylaria polymorpha

Xylaria polymorpha

Xylaria polymorpha

Xylaria polymorpha

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Kuo, M. (2008, October). Xylaria polymorpha (dead man's fingers). Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: