Long, tapered, pinkish orange column; top part with a greenish brown, smelly slime coating; white cup around the base. Grows on leafy debris, mulch piles, and rotting wood. July–September. Fruiting body cylindrical, hollow column, straight or curving, pinkish orange, tapering toward the top; top covered with a slimy, greenish brown, unpleasant-smelling spore mass, with a small opening at the tip; base enclosed in a white, saclike cup that is attached to the ground by a white, cordlike tissue. Spores greenish brown. Spores magnified are elliptical, smooth. This is a weird-looking mushroom, and once you see it, you’ll always remember it.
Lookalikes: The dog stinkhorn (Mutinus caninus) is very similar. Recent research indicates they may be the same species.
Fruiting body width: ½–1 inch; height: 4–7 inches.
Habitat and conservation:
Grows in leafy debris, mulch piles, rotting wood; also in woods and fields. Commonly grows in landscaping mulch. The elegant stinkhorn can emerge from its "egg" and grow to full size (and stinkiness) in just a few hours. It's often smelled before it's seen!
Distribution in Missouri:
Considered a good edible mushroom—with caution. The immature stage of this stinkhorn is a white, rubbery “egg” or “button.” In that stage, it doesn’t have a foul odor and is reported to be edible and quite good. You can sometimes find them available canned at Asian groceries. It does make for an unusual menu: "Let's have stinkhorn eggs for dinner!" However, if you want to try eating stinkhorn eggs, have an expert identify them, since the deadly amanitas also have an immature “egg” stage.
This species spends most of its life as a network of fungal cells (mycelium) that penetrates the soil or rotting mulch, digesting and decaying organic materials. When ready to reproduce, the “stinkhorn” develops aboveground. The top of the stalk is covered with a foul-smelling, greenish slime that attracts flies and other creatures that like decaying flesh. The slime contains the spores, and the flies distribute the spores wherever they go. The spores can grow into new mycelia elsewhere.
Stinkhorns often grow in landscaping mulch. They may be unappealing, but they are very beneficial to gardens, breaking down mulch to make nutrients available to plants. They don’t last long—gardeners can choose to view them with disgust, amusement, or plain curiosity.
This is one of the many fungus species that live on decaying organic materials. It and other such saprobic fungi play an incredibly important role in breaking down the tough materials living things are made of and returning those nutrients to the soil.