The Amateur Mycologist #19 - Phallus rubicundus
These posts are not for foraging. They are intended for entertainment and intellectual satisfaction only. These posts are not a field guide nor comprehensive in any way - their accuracy is not assured in any way. Do not eat wild mushrooms unless you are a professional, have substantial professional assistance or have a wealth of personal experience with a specific species. Do not make any foraging decisions based on these posts. To do so could be dangerous or life threatening.
These Posts Contains No Information Regarding Edibility Or Toxicity
Talk about a mushroom that doesn't take itself too seriously.
The first mushroom species I wrote about on Steemit was Phallus ravenelii, or Ravenel's Stinkhorn. P.rubicundus is in the same genus, but serves as an excellent example of how different two species in the same genus can be.
Broad strokes, P.rubicundus and P.ravenlii share the same physical layout. They grow in an egg, nestled in wood chips usually, and burst out into the world in the same absurdly penile shape. Both species have a long foamy body and a clearly distinguished "cap" or "head". Take a look at P.ravenelii to the left. That mushroom is broader all around, with a broader stem and cap. It has a very different coloration than P.rubicundus, with an off white stem and a permanently olive colored cap.
Now compare that picture to the pictures of P.rubicundus at the top of the article and below.
P.rubicundus has a thin stem, which starts off near white at the base, then transitions through yellow, orange and finally an orangy red near the top.
If you look at the image at the top of this post, you can see a fresher P.rubicundus, which still bears the dirt/olive colored spore slime on its cap. In the picture directly above, you can see the underlying red/orange of the cap flesh revealed, the slime having been washed away by the rain.
Let's take a closer look at the cap.
Here's another specimen with the spore slime washed off from the rain. You can see the foamy quality of the stem and cap "flesh" throughout the mushroom. However, what's important to confirm the ID of P.rubicundus is the presence of a macroscopically distinct cap structure.
If you find a similar ridiculous/horrible looking red tentacle springing from the ground, without a distinct cap structure, you may be looking at the somehow even more horrendous Mutinus elegans, pictured to the right. For me, the surest way to tell the difference is that where P.rubicundus looks disgusting but funny, M.elegans is just a tentacle groping out of the dirt which will haunt your nightmares.
My favorite part of finding mushrooms in the Phallus genus is bifurcating the immature eggs. I only found one this time - and it was very young - take a look.
The interior of the egg holds all the future parts of the mushroom.
This one had a white skin on the outside connected to the earth via a small white tendril, like a mushroom umbilical. It looked a lot like a small, young earthball or puffball, but when you touch it, the game is given away. It was soft to the touch, like a plastic baggy filled with jello.
If you look at the picture above, you can see all of the incipient structures of the future stinkhorn inside, but far from completely developed. The center is orange and would develop into the stem and cap of the mushroom. The olive colored portion is the spore mass, which would cover the head in a grotesque slime when the mature mushroom pops out.
Around the colored portion of the mushroom is a clear, jelly like mucus - with the color and consistency of egg white. Over time, this clear jelly would disappear and the center would expand out until the egg tripled in size and developed a small cone. Once it was ready, fairly quickly, within the course of a couple of hours, the full mushroom body would burst forth, as you see in the photos above.
Like it's cousin, P.ravenelii, P.rubicundus is one of the great spectacles of the natural world - and one which you have a high likelyhood of encountering, especially if you walk around mulch or woodchips in summer after a good rain, almost anywhere in the continental United States.
Cap/Flesh/Stem - Up to 20 cm long with a distinct cap structure covered in spore slime. The cap is going to be from 3-5 cm long and, like the rest of the flesh, is very fragile, almost "foamy" in texture. Kuo says it might be smooth textured under the slime, although all I have seen have been slightly bumpy in their characteristically foamy way. The stem is hollow if cut. 1-2cm thick, at most, which is thinner than P.ravenelii.
Spore Surface - The dark, stinky slime around the cap is the spore material.
Spore Print - The same dark color as the slime, which is the spore material.
Ecology - Saprobic - They may grow by themselves, but usually gregariously, or in small, nearby groups. I usually see them in woodchips or mulch, but they can grow in meadows, lawns and other collections of small organic dead matter.
Distribution - Kuo theorizes that they have spread around much of the Continental US from the transport of mulch across state borders over many years. However they got there, you will find these mushrooms popping up, ridiculously, all over the place in the US from July through a hot September (As I have).
Other Traits - Develops out of an egg which begins as nearly round with a jello consistency, and then becomes larger, vaguely conical. Slicing the egg open reveals the incipient structures of the mushroom. Commonly mistaken for M.elegans - the primary distinction being P.rubicundus has a distinct morphological cap structure, which M.elegans lacks.
THIS POST IS NOT INTENDED FOR FORAGING PURPOSES AND TO USE IT FOR THOSE PURPOSES WOULD BE DANGEROUS. DO NOT HUNT WILD MUSHROOMS WITHOUT RELYING ON A COMBINATION OF PROFESSIONAL FIELD GUIDES, IN PERSON PROFESSIONAL GUIDANCE, OR IN PERSON GUIDANCE BY SOMEONE TRUSTWORTHY WHO HAS COPIOUS LOCAL, SPECIALIZED MUSHROOM HUNTING EXPERIENCE. FAILURE TO DO SO CAN RESULT IN GRIEVOUS PERSONAL HARM OR DEATH.
Information Sources: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/phallus_rubicundus.html http://www.mushroomexpert.com/mutinus_elegans.html https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phallus_rubicundus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutinus_elegans
Photo Sources: All Photos are my own, OC, except for the picture of Mutinus Elegans: