Monday, October 09, 2006
The Stinkhorns Of Autumn
Nature can be kind, she can be cruel, ...and sometimes she can be a little stinker. Case in point: the proud gardener is walking along his bark-chip pathways in the garden, admiring his hostas, when his nostrils are suddenly assailed by an odor that can be kindly described as a week old dead possum soaking in a rain barrel. It is the time of year when the stinkhorn mushrooms pop up magically, and proceed to smell the place up. They like to invade rotting wood with their mycelium, so wood chip pathways in the garden are like a motel welcome sign for them. In spite of their olfactory repugnance, they are fascinating little mushrooms; they arise from a round, pinkish sac that for all the world looks like a flower bulb... the one pictured below was lying on the ground, and I suspect a chipmunk thought he was digging up a nice, juicy flower bulb, then Woof!!, and he dropped it. You can just see the tip of the stinkhorn emerging from the bulb. This is Ravenel's stinkhorn; the head is covered by olive-colored slime, which contains the spores. Flies and other insects are attracted to the smell, eat the slime, and in the process become covered with it, and spread the spores. The gel disappears in a matter of hours, and the mushroom dies. Seeing the bulb-like sac with a mushroom starting to emerge, made me think you could take these inside and treat them like forced hyacinth bulbs on the windowsill, and watch the stinkhorn emerge. I thought better of it... sometimes Liz loves me more for what I don't do.