Earth Almanac

Earth Almanac

Porcupine passion; an eight-legged lynx; more.

By Ted Williams
Published: September-October 2011

The aroma of Phallus ravenelii, now wafting from woods, lawns, and gardens of eastern North America, is one of early autumn's more pleasing aspects--if you're a fly. Flies glut themselves on the slimy, gray coating of this mushroom and then, thanks to its laxative properties, deposit the spores. Humans, less enthusiastic, have difficulty deciding if the scent resembles fresh feces or old carrion. For this reason they call the generally similar species of this wide-ranging genus "stinkhorn." In both the New and Old World you can find stinkhorns merely with your nose. When you see one you will understand the reason for the generic name because, down to the last anatomically correct detail, it resembles a phallus. Charles Darwin's daughter Etty sought to cleanse Victorian England of these allegedly obscene fungi, as Etty's niece, Gwen Raverat, recalls in her book Period Piece: "Armed with a basket and a pointed stick, and wearing special hunting cloak and gloves, she would sniff her way round the wood, pausing here and there, her nostrils twitching . . . then at last, with a deadly pounce, she would fall upon her victim, and poke his putrid carcass into her basket. At the end of the day's sport, the catch was brought back and burnt in the deepest secrecy on the drawing-room fire, with the door locked; because of the morals of the maids." Hovering around stinkhorns like the flies that spread them are superstitions. Stinkhorns were said to be attached to the sexually aroused zombie community reclining in the earth. Mature fruits were consumed as aphrodisiacs and rubbed on bulls to make them strong. Stinkhorns grow from white or pink, gelatin-covered "eggs" that are relished as delicacies in some parts of the world. Dig one up and, if you can resist eating it, keep it in a warm, moist place. In barely more than a day it will develop into a mushroom.

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Ted Williams

Ted Williams is freelance writer.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

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