Provocative and fragrant: discovering an original mushroom

As I often say, nature is fascinating! Sometimes we see oddities that we don’t understand at first glance, so we’re happy to find an article on the subject on the Laidback Gardener blog. And we’re even happier when we see that oddity again and recognize it.

Am I beating around the bush? Me? Of course not! Well, yes, maybe a little, because I want to introduce you to my subject very gently. But there are no 36 ways of putting it, today I’m talking about Mutinus caninus.

The what?

OK, OK. More commonly known as the dog stinkhorn… or, literally translated, dog penis.

There, I’ve said it! I hope your computer doesn’t block the page because it contains an offensive word! Personally, I routinely use this kind of anatomical word, which sometimes gets me sideways glances… but hey! A leg is a leg, so why isn’t it the same for all limbs, eh?

Anyway, what’s a dog penis? I’m not talking about your pet’s reproductive organ, I’m talking about a mushroom’s!

But What a Horrible Name!

Just like this mushroom, believe me!

You have to admit… well… it still looks like a dog’s penis!

It’s a fungus that frequently appears in flower beds. Nothing to worry about here, it’s not harmful to your plants and it even adds an unusual splash of color!

You Think the Name’s Terrible? Wait Until I Tell You About the Smell!

I’d never seen one in real life before this year. They grew at my mother’s house (she was very taken aback) and when she showed them to me, I was quick to pick one up, break her in half and smell it.

I’d read several testimonials, but I can now confirm: it stinks horribly. It smells like fermented dung from an anoxic dump. It really does.

Do what my partner does: take a shy little sniff… Don’t be like me, sticking my nose in and inhaling at the top of my lungs. I thought I was going to pass out! (Me, exaggerating? Really, not so much!)

But why the stench? It’s to attract flies. They devour the tip of the dog stinkhorn to release its spores… I hope the kids are playing outside while you’re reading this!

There’s no more glamorous way to put it: this fungus attracts flies with the smell of excrement so that they “open” the hat (which isn’t a hat at all) and allow the spores to disperse on the wind. This relationship between flies and mushrooms is almost like pollination, except that the spores are already mushroom “seeds” and don’t need to be transported to another individual. Remember that mushrooms are often the result of a meeting between two individuals underground.

What’s Good About It?

This mushroom has a pleasant texture to the touch. Very fragile, it looks like Styrofoam lace! It’s not toxic, but the smell isn’t too enticing, so only eat it when it’s in the egg stage. Personally, I’ve never eaten one. Finding mushroom eggs, often underground, is not my favorite pastime! And frankly, once I’d smelled it at maturity, it repulsed me, even at the egg stage!

As mentioned above, Mutinus caninus isn’t harmful to flower beds, nor does it tend to spread, so… have fun getting guests to smell and touch it, telling them that nature isn’t without a sense of humour!

Audrey Martel is a biologist who graduated from the University of Montreal. After more than ten years in the field of scientific animation, notably for Parks Canada and the Granby Zoo, she joined Nature Conservancy of Canada to take up new challenges in scientific writing. She then moved into marketing and joined Leo Studio. Full of life and always up for a giggle, or the discovery of a new edible plant, she never abandoned her love for nature and writes articles for both Nature sauvage and the Laidback Gardener.

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