Friday, May 15, 2009

Stinkhorns!

Walking the dogs around the yard this morning I saw a clump of my favorite fungus, stinkhorns. I like these because they remind me of a line in that old TV show, Wings.

The line is spoken by the ditzy lady (Faye) behind the ticket counter. She is entertaining the waiting passengers with fun facts, and one is something like, “the pressure from a whale’s blowhole can shoot a baby 23 feet in the air” (I know the height number isn’t right, but the idea is). Then she says, “Isn’t mother nature a hoot?”

When I see stinkhorns, I think that line.

Sometimes the taxonomists do a good job of assigning helpful names, and the family name of the stinkhorns, Phallaceae, is an excellent example; they are all a bit phallic in appearance. Of course, the stinkhorn family contains many species, but I’m pretty sure the stinkhorns that pop up in my yard are Mutinus caninus (also called the dog stinkhorn; they aren't as tapered as M. elegans).

My 1979 copy of Ian Ross’s book Biology of the Fungi includes a little stinkhorn-related story from a 1959 text by Wasson and Wasson, about Charles Darwin’s aunt. The story is that she “used to seek out and destroy such horrible growths from the neighboring woods, so that when the maids of the household went out for walks, their morals would not be impaired.”

The commentary that follows the story is also interesting: “One assumes, of course, that Darwin’s aunt was, as are all censors, incapable of being affected by such gross objects.”

According to Kerry's Garden, the dog stinkhorn is edible. A comment under the post by Jim Krupnik adds that it is also considered a delicacy by the Chinese. It is possible that stinkhorns are the plant world's version of Limberger cheese. My in-laws used to say that the trick is getting it past your nose---then, it is pretty good. Needless to say, I never got that stinky cheese past my nose. I think the stinkhorns are going to stay out of my kitchen, but it is good to know that they aren't at all dangerous.

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