5 of the Most Bizarre Mushrooms

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A while ago I talked about my new love for mushroom hunting and what exactly it is that I love about mushrooms, but today I’d like to get into the specifics of some truly bizarre species of fungus. If you didn’t already know that mushrooms are neither animals nor plants, here are five species that will convince you!

#5 The Octopus Stinkhorn

Octopus Stinkhorn

This mushroom doesn’t have the most flattering name. It’s part of the stinkhorn species, which as their names suggest, give off a rather unpleasant smell. They give off a scent similar to roadkill or decaying flesh, attracting flies to carry off their spores. 

The octopus stinkhorn looks particularly gruesome, starting off as an “egg” before four-to-seven dark red limbs emerge and split off into tentacles. The fully mature mushroom smells like rotting flesh, and looks almost alien. 

Check out this timelapse of the octopus stinkhorn’s growth!

#4 The Veiled Lady

Veiled Lady

Another species of stinkhorn, the veiled lady, or bridal veil fungus, also emits a rotten stench to attract insects. It looks eerily elegant, with its long lacy “skirt” falling down to form a sort of cage. This mushroom is surprisingly edible, with a history of use in traditional Chinese medicine due to its antioxidant properties. Its silhouette and delicate details conjure images of Victorian corpse brides. 

#3 Devil’s Tooth

Devil’s Tooth

The devil’s tooth is also called strawberries and cream, the red-juice tooth, and the bleeding tooth fungus. While the adult forms of this species are plain brown, younger mushrooms leak globules of red liquid that give off the appearance of blood. This is actually an anticoagulant similar to sap, and it disappears as the mushroom ages. The “tooth” part of its name comes from its underside, which is made up of tiny tooth-like ridges. 

#4 Green Pepe

Green Pepe

Bioluminescent mushrooms are a fantastic addition to fantasy or sci-fi landscapes, but did you know they also exist in real life? Growing in subtropical areas, bioluminescent mushrooms like the green pepe glow in the dark, adding some mystical flair to decaying logs. They only give off that gorgeous glow during humidity and only for a short amount of time, so catching a glimpse of this sight is a rare delight! 

#5 Zombie Ant Fungus

Ant infected by Zombie Ant Fungus

Now this is something straight of a horror movie. This particular fungus is a parasite that attaches to ants, eventually breaking through their exoskeleton. The fungus spreads through the ant’s body to its brain and completely takes over. The ant is driven to climb as high as it can to the canopies, where it will then clamp its mandibles down on the vein of a leaf. The fungus anchors the ant to the leaf with mycelia (fungal roots) to keep it in place. The ant has done its duty; now, a fungal stalk breaks out of the ant’s head as all of its muscles atrophy, killing it. The stalk then releases more spores, and the cycle begins again. This process takes 4-10 days, and can destroy entire ant colonies. 

This is one of my favourite types of fungus, just because of how creepy and unreal it seems. 

There are plenty more weird and wonderful mushrooms and fungi in the world and it’s impossible to list them all. But this sample I’ve provided for you today proves that science fiction isn’t too far off from reality if we look close enough.

My New Lockdown Hobby: Mushroom Hunting!

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Like most people, the pandemic has left me with a lot of spare time on my hands (though, of course, never as much as I’d like). One thing that I am very grateful for is that I live on my family’s beautiful sheep farm. I’ve always been passionate about nature, and my friends and family will attest to how much I ramble on about birds. I’m lucky to have plenty of space to go out and enjoy nature, and it’s really helped me get through the various lockdowns.

But recently I’ve delved into a new topic of interest that I’ve always been curious about, but never put much thought into: mushrooms!

I’ve always loved mushrooms aesthetically; spotted toadstools are emblematic of autumn, and I’m endlessly fascinated by the gothic-horror potential of cordyceps, a fungus that essentially turns bugs into zombies. The sheer variety of mushrooms is incredible; there are parasitic mushrooms, mushrooms that look like octopi, ones shaped like teeth, even ones that glow in the dark!

My dad brought in some firewood one evening with some strange mushrooms sticking out of it. These were ochre brackets, little fan-shaped mushrooms with rings of white, cream, and brown. After this I was curious about what other mushrooms I could find around our property. So I decided one day to go along on my regular walking track, but this time, deliberately take in my surroundings and look for mushrooms. The ideal time for mushroom hunting is autumn, and I had decided on this hobby at the end of winter, but I’ve been having a blast so far!

It was amazing just how many mushrooms I found when I was seeking them out. I have to wonder now how many I’ve passed by without even realising it.

On my walking track, I began to notice some regulars; the cluster of round “Dead Man’s Foot” mushrooms with cracked surfaces; the cracked cap polypore attached to a tree trunk that looked like it could be a balcony for fairies, and its neighbours, the robust brackets that resembled russet-coloured bubbles springing out of the tree. It began to be part of my routine to find these familiar mushrooms and “check in” with them. When I spotted one I would excitedly rush over to take pictures, see if anything had changed, and debate over whether to leave it be or bring it home to see what I could do with it.

Crack-Cap Polypore
Salmon Gum Mushroom

Mostly I’ve been leaving them alone, but with some truly shocking winds one of my favourites, a decently-sized meadow mushroom, had been violently uprooted. I carried it with me like a tiny parasol until I got home, when I placed it outside until I could figure out what to do with it. If I was right and it was a regular meadow mushroom, it was likely edible! But I’m still an amateur mushroom hunter, so I didn’t want to take the risk.

Likely a Meadow Mushroom

As tends to happen, I got busy and forgot about the mushroom. A few days passed, and today I went to have a look at it. It had shrivelled and browned, and its gills had blackened and turned slimy. Then I remembered something about certain mushrooms being used to make ink.

I took the mushroom inside, grabbed an old sketchbook, and pressed the gills to the paper. It worked! Maybe not in the refined way that experts had learned to do, but the mushroom was leaving inky, brownish-black stains where I pressed it. The pictures I made with it weren’t pretty, but it sure was satisfying. The ink stained my fingers too, and the fermenting mushroom smelt unexpectedly sweet. I’d like to experiment with this a bit more if I’m lucky enough to find another great specimen like that one. Maybe mushroom art could be my niche.

I’m fully committed to the mushroom life, now. I even bought a grow-kit, and I’m 15 days into growing my own oyster mushrooms! With the kit, I ordered a book on mushrooms that details how varied and fascinating they are! It’s so fulfilling to have this new interest that really ignites something within me. I’m so in awe of these wonderful things: neither plant nor animal, mushrooms are their own order. I want to know everything I can about them.

Using an app called Picture Mushroom, I’ve been identifying mushrooms to the best of my abilities. I’m by no means an expert, and my guesses could be wrong, but I’m sincerely enjoying this little treasure hunt of mine that lets me close off my thoughts for a bit and pay attention to the wonderful world around me. I’ll be sharing some updates on my mushroom journey, and I hope if you’re able to, you take the chance to look around for these little guys that are hiding in plain sight!

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