If you have been lucky enough to get out and about during the rains in south eastern Australia this week, you may have noticed the spectacular emergence of starfish stinkhorns. An apt name for a fascinating native mushroom. Not only do they look like a starfish and stink like a carcass, but some scientists say that certain species are an aphrodisiac, specifically potent for women.
Todd Elliot, a PhD student and colleague, visited my office last week to show me a stinkhorn that he had collected in the garden bed outside our office. Excited at the magnificent red and complex structure of the fruiting body, I had to go and find some stinkhorn eggs myself to see the emergence in action.
Excited at the magnificent red and complex structure of the fruiting body, I had to go and find some stinkhorn eggs myself to see the emergence in action.
Stinkhorns made their name in 2001 when the ability of one species to provide spontaneous pleasure to women from a mere sniff of this magical mushroom, was published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The research was not considered robust or worth replicating. None-the-less, I employed my womanly prerogative to assess our native species’ potential qualities.
I took the fungal eggs home and placed one next to my bedside table so I could test this strange but promising phenomenon. Alas, as I awoke in the morning, it was to the pungent odour of a newly hatched stinkhorn. Screwing up my nose in regret, I looked over to see the freshly emerged fruit with a rich brown slime at the end of a stalk. Sadly, no spontaneous pleasure can be reported.
So, if not to please the women of the world, why does the stinkhorn smell so very pungent? It eventuates that the reproductive spores of the stinkhorn are enveloped in a foul smelling odorous slime. This provides an irresistible lure for the humble fly.
Flies collect the slimy spores on their legs when they land and disperse them as they move onto their next investigation.
As a phallaceae, stinkhorns are part of a family of fungi that take on all sorts of weird and imaginative shapes. These mushrooms feed on rotting woody debris in the environment helping with decomposition and waste removal.
As you can imagine, that’s a really important job and one that we would notice should its services disappear. So even if stinkhorns are not the answer to instantaneous pleasure for women, with beauty to behold and an odour to repulse, they are certainly worth checking out.
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