August 18, 2010

Mushroom Mystery Solved: Basket Stinkhorn

Ever since I started working at a job in San Francisco's Presidio, I've noticed these strange little egg-like fungus that would undergo a startling transition. On my daily walk from the bus stop to the office, I'd see them under some shrubs. I always imagined them as some sort of alien life form. Frankly, they freaked me out.
They'd start out as a whitish egg shape, then "blossom" into a something like an orange dodecahedron or geodesic dome with holes, which would finally start to collapse. I've been wondering about these things for about three years, and of course did nothing about it. Even though I knew that one of my coworkers is into fungi (I think she's even part of the Bay Area Mycological Society), it wasn't until today that I took a photograph, along with a Post-It Note documenting its phases, to seek her guidance.

Within a few minutes she was able to identify it: Basket Stinkhorn. Gotta love the name. Today was also the first time I noticed flies all over it. Apparently it has an odor like rotting meat (I don't want to get close enough to smell it!), which attracts the flies, which then helps to spread its spores; ingenious and gross. Ironically, the more I learn about it, the more freaked out and disgusted I am.