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Stinkhorn Bringing in the Crowds

— by Caragh

The summer rains have brought up some unusual fungi around town, including this fragrant specimen, known as a Stinkhorn (possibly classified under the Phallus genus, though it hasn’t yet been identified to species – if you know what it is, get in touch!). The fungus popped up overnight and by the afternoon, it possessed a strange foetid smell.

According to Young (2005)* the odour is used by the fungi to ensure spores are dispersed. Spore-producing tissues break down to form a slime that houses the spores. This slime has a rotting meat smell that is attractive to various flies, which then feed on the mass and secondarily transport spores on their feet to other locations.

Once the fungi have begun producing the odorous slime, they are toxic and should be avoided. Some dogs can be attracted to the rotting meat odour and consumption of the fungus can result in sickness (or worse).

The images below were taken by me (Caragh) in my northside garden. Check out additional Stinkhorn photos from Alice Springs and Queensland by Barbara Gildfedder in our January 2017 newsletter.

*Young, AM (2005). A Field Guide to the Fungi of Australia. University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney, NSW.

Stinkhorn Phallus sp
Stinkhorn Phallus sp
Stinkhorn Phallus sp
Stinkhorn Phallus sp

Update:

I have had the Stinkhorn fungus identified by Deborah Bisa, the Collection Manager at Northern Territory Herbarium (DNA) in Palmerston, in conjunction with a mycologist based in Perth. The fungus is indeed a type of Stinkhorn, but belongs in the genus Itajahya (sometimes placed in a very weird group of the genus Phallus, but there is good molecular data for keeping it as a separate genus). Identifying it to species level is apparently problematic without obtaining DNA sequence data. Apparently the Australian material is known as Itajahya hornseyi, but it too is usually treated as a synonym of Itajahya galericulata, and it also has the pink tints of Itajahya rosea. So the ID has been broadly left at Itajahya sp. for now. The mycologist would be very happy to have some material sent to Perth, including all the collection details, so if you see one around please let us know as soon as possible (to obtain it fresh) to have the specimen lodged with Peter Jobson at the Alice Springs Herbarium.