Tracing the Scent

There is a particular spot on one of the Trust paths that often smells rather, well, unpleasant. I walk by frequently when we have stock in the far field and the source has been puzzling me since the summer. At first I thought it was a dead fox or similar, but the smell didn’t seem to disappear over time as I would have expected. Then I wondered if I was disturbing Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) as I walked by, but there was no sign of any in the area.

At last though, the mystery has been solved. Now the bracken at the base of the hedge has died back a lovely specimen of the common stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) fungus has been
revealed. The stinkhorn has probably been fruiting on and off all summer, creating the distinctive smell.

Common Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus)
Common Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus)

The fungus is common in UK gardens and woods and is associated with rotting wood, which may be buried underground. Initially, the fungus is egg like in appearance, covered in a thick gelatinous layer. The mushroom emerges through the egg, covered in olive green slime which contains the fungal spores. The slime is responsible for the strong offensive smell which is highly attractive to flies. The slime sticks to the legs of the flies, so dispersing the spores.

According to the book “Mushrooms” by Roger Philips “The egg stage, which lacks the disgusting smell, is edible though not tasty”. I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to try it any time soon.