Stinkhorn, Mutinus caninusThe Stinkhorn at the right, Mutinus caninus, which is 5 inches high (13 cm), often appears growing in the mulch I spread in my organic garden in Mississippi. If you break open a stinkhorn you see that it's mostly empty air, just a thin shell a little like orange Styrofoam. The whole thing is sticky and moist, and the top part appears to be covered with a dark, greenish-brown, slimy goo that stinks! In fact, flies land on the goo as if it were a pile of dog-doo, and it smells like it could be just that.

This fungus stinks and draws flies for a reason, however, and that's because the greenish-brown stuff is composed of basidia and basidiospores. Therefore, when flies fly away with stinkhorn goo sticking to their legs, they're helping the Stinkhorn send its reproductive propagules, its spores, into new territory. The flies are "planting" new Stinkhorns everyplace they land. Notice that the orange stalk arises from something looking like an egg. That's typical of the various Stinkhorn species. When I first found some "unhatched" Stinkhorn eggs I thought they were big turtle eggs, so I was pretty surprised when I let them stay where they were, and Stinkhorns emerged! Neither the egg nor the Stinkhorn stalk are poisonous, but I can't imagine anyone wanting to eat them!