Wednesday 7 September 2011


One from the archives that I just haven't found the time to slot in. I found these in Morganhayes Wood in the middle of June. I see them most years, in fact I always smell them first. I have a particularly acute sense of smell which I'm not altogether sure is a blessing, however it's not needed to smell this beast!

Phallus impudicus or the Common Stinkhorn.... Say what you see.... and smell!

Even though I've seen loads of these over the years these were the first ones I've seen with all the gleba ( greeny brown smelly goo or more correctly spore mass) in situ still.

Mmm... lovely. Still, flies love it because it smells like a rotting corpse. 
They walk on the gleba and carry it off on their little tootsies to spread around the woods.

 It's all in the name.
Botanist John Gerard called it the "pricke mushroom" or "fungus virilis penis effigie" in his General Historie of Plants of 1597, and John Parkinson referred to it as "Hollanders workingtoole" or "phallus hollandicus" ( Hmm...Not sure if that's meant as an insult or compliment!).Linnaeus (1640) was responsible for the fairly obvious genus name. Its specific epithet, impudicus, is derived from the Latin for "shameless" or "immodest".

Old specimens without the gleba.

Anyone interested in fungi has probably heard the story of Henrietta Darwin (Charles Darwin's erotophobic daughter) and her one woman crusade to rid the local woods of the fungus.

In our native woods there grows a kind of toadstool, called in the vernacular The Stinkhorn, though in Latin it bears a grosser name. The name is justified, for the fungus can be hunted by the scent alone; and this was Aunt Etty's great invention. Armed with a basket and a pointed stick, and wearing special hunting cloak and gloves, she would sniff her way round the wood, pausing here and there, her nostrils twitching, when she caught a whiff of her prey; then at last, with a deadly pounce, she would fall upon her victim, and poke his putrid carcass into her basket. At the end of the day's sport, the catch was brought back and burnt in the deepest secrecy on the drawing-room fire, with the door locked; because of the morals of the maids

Gwen Raverat (1952). Period piece: A Cambridge childhood.

A couple of things always puzzle me when I read this, firstly, if  'the maids' were in fact that innocent  why protect them from seeing the  fungus because surely they wouldn't have any idea what it resembled would they? Secondly, what strange behaviour to take the stinkhorns home and lock herself in the drawing room with them. They are very delicate and could easily have been squashed/flattened in situ. "The lady doth protest too much, methinks " comes to mind .... I can't help wondering if she lined them up and admired them!?

1 comment:

Stuart Price said...

they do look extremely phallic though........