Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Fungus Among Us: Skirted Stinkhorn.

Since the power outage unfortunately cut our fungus week short, here's what I would have done if the power hadn't gone out. Yes, I know, we already did a stinkhorn, but this stinkhorn is a little more eerie.

More here.

Perhaps this would have been a little more appropriate for Halloween, but the skirted stinkhorn (Phallus indusiatus) is the quintessential "weird mushroom." It's identifiable as a mushroom, but looks like it was laced with cobwebs or the skirt of a ghost. Every tropical region in the world has this thing. It's that one mushroom that people photograph and demand to know what it is. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

P. indusiatus has a very distinctive 'skirt' of lacy indusium- the stuff beneath the cap on this mushroom. As in the basket stinkhorn, this mushroom uses its scent and presumably holes to help spread its spores around. Again, the spores are stored in a sticky fluid called gleba as opposed to being airborne. Is it just me, or do all stinkhorns sound like something out of alien movies?

Unlike the other stinkhorn we covered, yes, this baby is edible. It was a rarity in Qing dynasty cuisine for a long time. The notorious Empress Dowager Cixi had a particular fondness for skirted stinkhorn, and Henry Kissinger got a taste of it as well. It has been successfully cultivated in China since 1979. It is now sold commonly in Asian markets, so if you're curious, take a look there.

Along with actually being edible, P. indusiatus has a few compounds in it that may prove useful. One, hydrxylmethylfurfural, could prevent browning in commercial food. Extracts are antioxidants and antibiotics. There is almost nothing bad about this mushroom...except that it might be an alien spore. Quick, run!

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