Red Cage Fungus: Smelly Beauty

Posted by on Aug 19, 2013 in adaptations, insects, nature centers, summer, Unmowed Blog | 0 comments

Pulling weeds. A very educational pursuit. I learn something new every time I do it.

I was pulling some  invasive bittersweet out of a pile of woodchips at the Pine Hollow Arboretum, when I noticed a hint of a sort of bad smell. Decomposing dead animal? Turned around to look, and the smell grew stronger. No sign of any corpses, though. Hm. Odor getting stronger the more I walk around.

Did I step in something unfortunate? Check shoes.

No.

What is that smell?

I search around, and finally notice what’s been under my feet all along–the tiny, fragile, odoriferous beauty of a stinkhorn fungus. botanical garden 132

I’ve tentatively identified it as a Clathrus ruber, or red cage fungus, which is in the very aptly-named stinkhorn family.

This weird red cage-like structure was clammy, rubbery, and covered with flies. I couldn’t decide if I was in a horror movie or a science fiction movie. The awful smell, though, is of course a very effective adaptation, one shared by many lovely flowers like red trillium–a smell of rotting meat attracts flies, which then pollinate the flower, or in the case of the fungus, disperse the spores.

Look how tiny it is! Fingertip size. orange cage fungus stinkhorn

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