Friday, October 28, 2011

Witch Egg Phallacy

Remember this "Witch's Egg" picture from last week?   Well, if you wondered what in the world hatches from these, here's the rest of the story for you!

Witch's Eggs, continued
Wherever we have mulch, witch's eggs are showing up.  Why are they called witch's eggs?  Is it because witches hatch from them, or because they attract witches, or perhaps witches collect them and use them for spells?  I never found out for sure, but I have my suspicions.

To me they look like oozy, iris-less eyeballs or maybe reptile eggs.  Let me warn you, they excite the imagination at every stage.

These two seem to have developed pustules.

Some sort of small animal ate the top off of this one.  Is that a tiny embryo in the very center of the goop?  As it happens, someone I know and love sacrificed it in the name of scientific exploration when she performed a dissection with oak twigs.  (Hi, Emily)

For the one that won't hatch, there are at least a half dozen more coming along.

Once they start to open up, growth is fast.
~* Watch what happens in this time-lapse video from Cornell.*~

If you took a peek at the video, you already found out -- they are...

 stinkhorn mushrooms!

These are the species, Phallus ravenelii.

  • Phallus ravenelii is named for Carolina botanist and mycologist, Henry Ravenel (1814 - 1887), who first found it in 1846. (enotes)  Ravenel earned his degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later become known as an expert on American fungi. (USC library)
  • Common names include stinkhorn, witch's eggs, devil's eggs, devil's horn, and my personal favorite, Satan's member (UQ News
  • The slime the mushrooms produce is where the spores are. 
  • Flies and gnats land in the slime and it gets stuck to them; they fly away and inadvertently plant more stinkhorns.
  • Mosquitoes that feed on the slime are killed. (Wikipedia)
  • The growth of stinkhorns can produce enough force to break pavement.
  • They prefer to grow in well-rotted wood, especially mulch.
  • The eggs show up in late summer or early fall.
  • Range is all along the east coast of North America.
  • Stinkhorns are primary decomposers, breaking down leaf litter and producing a unique enzyme that breaks down the lignin in wood. (BBC Nature UK)
  • Stinkhorn eggs are considered a edible delicacy in some cultures. 
  • Historically used in Europe as a treatment for rheumatism, gout, epilepsy and skin cancers, while also being blamed for cholera and madness. (VirtualMuseum)
FYI facts from Cornell Mushroom Blog, except where noted.

But now on to the photos...

Go ahead and snicker amongst yourselves.

See how the stinkhorns are covered with gnats?  One observer said they smell "strange, like rotting flesh and violets." (Nature Plus)  I think they smell like mushrooms you left in the fridge too long, but there are hints of carrion and something kind of ethereal like violets. They are not called stinkhorns for nothing.  Whatever we think, the smell of death is ambrosia to decay-loving insects.

I watched these stinky guys for days, running outside with my camera every morning to see if there were any new developments.  My wary husband noticed this, offering to don a few leaves for me at one point.


Freaky Phallus Story
The stinkhorn so offended Charles Darwin's daughter, Etty, that she sniffed the air for them on her walks through the woods, plucked them up, put them in a basket and took them home to burn behind locked doors.  She didn't like the effects she believed they had on her maid servants. Hmm, the servants, eh?

A Little More
Eating a Witch's Egg
The Stinkhorn Hall of Fame



  1. lovely little things, daricia! they are quite funny too :-) my grandkids got a good laugh out of it too, LOL. keep up the great work!

  2. Na pewno bym takiego grzyba nie zerwała, samym wyglądem odstrasza :-). U nas nie ma takich grzybów, a sromotnik inaczej wygląda i jest śmiertelnie trujący. Dziękuję, że widziałam coś nowego dla mnie na ślicznych zdjęciach. Pozdrawiam

  3. Yuck! But very interesting, and some great facts. I've never seen these before. Actually, I hope I never do!

  4. That first pic looks like someone threw away an oyster on the ground. The rest of the post: of all the crazy things I never knew I'd know...

  5. That is fascinating! Great photos!

  6. giga - i wish i could understand your post! google translate is not so great with polish to english.

    holley - i found these things totally fascinating! but they are stinky which isn't the nicest thing in your garden.

    jess 1 - it does look oyster-y! stinkhorns are new to me, too. i had no idea!

    jess 2 - thanks! i'm glad you stopped by.

    suzy - i love that you're laughing. me too.

  7. Wow, really interesting! I've never seen a stinkhorn before.. but I'll be on the look out for them in the future. They're so ugly, yet interesting looking at the same time!

  8. Fascinating! I haven't notice them when they look like a witch's egg only when they are poking way out of the ground. I laughed at your comment that you checked on them everyday and took pictures. Totally something I would do too!