Phallus impudicus
— or skip this if you’re eating

I’m a curious sort of person.

So, on a string of late summer nights, when I heard through the open windows a low trilling coming from a thick stand of trees in my neighbor’s yard, I began yet another obsessive search for answers.

I spent some late-night hours on the Internet bird sound databases trying to identify this almost imperceptible sound, almost like moth wings fluttering in the dark. Finally, in late August, I cracked the case. It was an Eastern screech owl. I’d always assumed a screech owl, would, you know, screech, so I’d not considered anything in the owl family in my search. Sadly, once I identified the sound it was never heard again.

But, nature has a funny way of keeping me hopping. Late last week as I was digging a hole in one of my backyard gardens to plant a vine cutting, something odd caught my eye. I bent down to get a better look. That’s when the smell grabbed me by the deviated septum.  With one hand pinching my nose, I used the other (gloved) hand to carefully pluck this phallic fungus from the mulch.  I marched it over to the compost pile. Along the way, I felt a little like Lorena Bobbitt.

Fancy Internet picture

The beige, spongy base narrowed to a green, mottled, rotting-flesh-scented tip that dripped slime.  It is one of the most revolting things I’ve encountered in a long while.

Yucky, real-life shot

After I photographed this fetid fungal specimen I went inside, calmed my stomach, washed my hands, and began Googling Michigan mushrooms.

I didn’t have to look far to find out I’d bagged a big, bad phallus impudicus, otherwise known as a stinkhorn. Turns out the white, slimy, furred thing nestled nearby was a stinkhorn egg.

What would Georgia O'Keeffe have done with these beauties?

Mycologists, or mushroom experts, have a sense of humor about these things. Other names for the stinkhorn are pricke mushrooms, and fungus virilis penis effigie. Then there’s its little red cousin, the mutinus caninus, commonly known as the dog penis mushroom. The sites I visited relished in explaining how the slimy egg’s parts, which look suspiciously female, are edible. At maturity they quickly erupt and thrust a shaft skyward with astonishing speed and force, apparently powerful enough to penetrate asphalt. They, too, are edible, but seem appealing only to carrion eaters.

How have I lived almost 47 years and not heard of any of this? Perhaps the answer rests with this final tidbit: In Victorian-era Cambridge, matrons of the manor ran about the woods collecting in baskets these shameless phallus to later be burned. All this to protect young maidens from encountering the frightening and stimulating objects while on an afternoon stroll.

So, there you have it. My yard is a field of rotting genitals.




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