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Common Stinkhorn
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Fungi
Division: Basidiomycota
Class: Agaricomycetes
Order: Phallales
Family: Phallaceae
Genus: Phallus
Species: P. impudicus
Binomial name
Phallus impudicus
Linnaeus, 1753
Phallus impudicus
View the Mycomorphbox template that generates the following list
Mycological characteristics
glebal hymenium
cap is conical
stipe is bare
ecology is saprotrophic
edibility: edible

Phallus impudicus, commonly known as the common stinkhorn, is a widespread fungus recognizable for its foul odor and its phallic shape when mature, the latter feature giving rise to several names in 17th-century England. It is a common mushroom in Europe and western North America, where it occurs in habitats rich in wood debris such as forests and mulched gardens. It appears from summer to late autumn. The fruiting structure is tall and white with a slimy, dark olive colored conical head. Known as the gleba, this material contains the spores, and is transported by insects which are attracted by the odor – described as resembling carrion. Despite its foul smell, it is not poisonous and the young mushroom is consumed in parts of France and Germany.



Botanist John Gerard called it the "pricke mushroom" or "fungus virilis penis effigie" in his General Historie of Plants of 1597, and John Parkinson referred to it as "Hollanders workingtoole" or "phallus hollandicus" in his Theatrum botanicum of 1640.[1] Linnaeus was responsible for the fairly obvious genus name. Its specific epithet, impudicus, is derived from the Latin for "shameless" or "immodest".[2]


Sometimes called the witch's egg,[3] the immature stinkhorn is whitish or pinkish, egg-shaped, and typically 4 to 6 cm (1.6 to 2.4 in) by 3 to 5 cm (1.2 to 2.0 in).[4]

An immature fruiting body ("egg") in longitudinal section

On the outside is a thick whitish volva, also known as the peridium, covering the olive-colored gelatinous gleba. It is the latter that contains the spores and later stinks and attracts the flies; within this layer is a green layer which will become the 'head' of the expanded fruit body; and inside this is a white structure called the receptaculum (the stalk when expanded), that is hard, but has an airy structure like a sponge.[5] The eggs become fully grown stinkhorns very rapidly, over a day or two.[3] The mature stinkhorn is 10 to 25 cm (3.9 to 9.8 in) tall and 4 to 5 cm (1.6 to 2.0 in) in diameter,[4] topped with a conical cap 2 to 4 cm (0.8 to 1.6 in) high that is covered with a greenish-brown slime termed the gleba. In older fungi the slime is eventually removed, exposing a bare yellowish pitted and ridged (reticulate) surface. This has a passing resemblance to the common morel (Morchella esculenta), with which it is sometimes mistaken.[6] Phallus impudicus is able to exert up to 1.33 kN/m2 of pressure, (enough to grow through asphalt).[7]

The spores have an elliptical to oblong shape, with dimensions of 3–5 to 1.5–2.5 µm.[6]

Spore dispersal

The dispersal of spores is different from most "typical" mushrooms that spread their spores through the air. Stinkhorns instead produce a sticky spore mass on their tip which has a sharp, sickly-sweet odor of carrion to attract flies and other insects. Odorous chemicals in the gleba include methyl mercaptane, hydrogen sulfide,[8] linalool, trans-ocimene, and phenylacetaldehyde.[9] The mature fruiting bodies can be smelled from a considerable distance in the woods, and at close quarters most people find the cloying stink extremely repulsive. The flies land in the gleba and in doing so collect the spore mass on their legs and carry it to other locations.[10] An Austrian study demonstrated that blow-flies (species Calliphora erythrocephala, Lucilia caesar, Lucilia ampullacea and Dryomyza analis) also feed on the slime, and soon after leaving the fruit body, they deposit liquid feces that contain a dense suspension of spores.[11] The study also showed that beetles (Oecoptoma thoracica and Meligethes viridescena) are attracted to the fungus, but seem to have less of a role in spore dispersal as they tend to feed on the hyphal tissue of the fruiting body.

There is also a possible ecological association between the P. impudicus and badger (Meles meles) setts.[12] Fruiting bodies are commonly clustered in a zone 24 to 39 metres (79 to 128 ft) from the entrances of setts;[13] setts also typically harbor a regularly-available supply of badger cadavers—the mortality rate of cubs is high and most likely occurs within the setts.[14] The fruiting of large numbers of stinkhorns attracts a high population of blowflies to the badger setts; the proximity to badger carcasses entices the flies to lay their eggs (Calliphora and Lucilla breed on carrion)[15] and help ensure that they are more quickly eliminated, removing a potential source of disease. The laxative effect of the gleba reduces the distance from the fruiting body to where the spores are deposited, ensuring the continued production of high densities of stinkhorns.[13]

Distribution and habitat

The common stinkhorn can be found throughout much of Europe and North America, and it has also been collected in China,[16] Costa Rica,[17] Iceland,[18] India,[19] Tanzania,[20] and southeast Australia.[21] In North America, it is most common west of the Mississippi River; Ravenel's stinkhorn (Phallus ravenelii) is more common to the east.[22] The fungus is associated with rotting wood, and as such it is most commonly encountered in deciduous woods where it fruits from summer to late autumn, though it may also be found in conifer woods or even grassy areas such as parks and gardens.[5] It may also form mycorrhizal associations with certain trees.[23]




At the egg stage, pieces of the inner layer (the receptaculum) can be cut out with a knife and eaten raw.[24] They are crisp and crunchy with an attractive radishy taste.[25] The fungus is enjoyed and eaten in France and parts of Germany, where it may be sold fresh or pickled and used in sausages.[5] Similar species are consumed in China.

Medicinal properties

Venous thrombosis, the formation of a blot clot in a vein, is a common cause of death in breast cancer patients; patients with recurrent disease are typically maintained on anticoagulants for their lifetimes. A research study has suggested that extracts from P. impudicus can reduce the risk of this condition by reducing the incidence of platelet aggregation, and may have potential as a supportive preventative nutrition.[26] It was used in medieval times as a cure for gout and as a love potion.[5]

Folk uses

In Northern Montenegro, peasants rub Phallus impudicus on the necks of bulls before bull fighting contests in an attempt to make them stronger. They are also fed to young bulls as they are thought to be a potent aphrodisiac.[7]


  1. ^ Benjamin DR. (1995). "Cultural attitudes toward mushrooms". Mushrooms: poisons and panaceas—a handbook for naturalists, mycologists and physicians. New York: WH Freeman and Company. pp. 6–7. ISBN 0-7167-2600-9. 
  2. ^ Simpson DP. (1979). Cassell's Latin Dictionary (5 ed.). London: Cassell Ltd.. pp. 883. ISBN 0-304-52257-0. 
  3. ^ a b Persson O, Nilsson S. (1978). Fungi of northern Europe. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-063005-8. 
  4. ^ a b Ellis JB, Ellis MB. (1990). Fungi without Gills (Hymenomycetes and Gasteromycetes): an Identification Handbook. London: Chapman and Hall. p. 244. ISBN 0-412-36970-2. 
  5. ^ a b c d Zeitlmayr, Linus (1976). Wild Mushrooms:An Illustrated Handbook. Hertfordshire: Garden City Press. ISBN 0-584-10324-7. 
  6. ^ a b Arora D. (1986). Mushrooms Demystified: a Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi. Berkeley, Calif: Ten Speed Press. pp. 768–69. ISBN 0-89815-169-4.  Google Books
  7. ^ a b Niksic M, Hadzic I, Glisic M. (2004). "Is Phallus impudicus a mycological giant?". Mycologist 18: 21–22. doi:10.1017/S0269915X04001041. Retrieved 2010-01-22. 
  8. ^ List PH, Freund B. (1967). "Methylmercaptane and hydrogen sulfide odorous substances of stink-morel (Phallus impudicus)" (in German). Naturwissenschaften 54 (2): 648. 
  9. ^ Borgkarlson AK, Englund FO, Unelius CR. (1994). "Dimethyl oligosulphides, major volatiles released from Sauromatum guttatum and Phallus impudicus". Phytochemistry 35 (2): 321–23. doi:10.1016/S0031-9422(00)94756-3. 
  10. ^ Hall IR. (2003). Edible and poisonous mushrooms of the world. Portland, Or: Timber Press. p. 250. ISBN 0-88192-586-1.  Google Books
  11. ^ Schremmer F. (1963). "Interrelations between mushrooms and insects. Observations on Phallus impudicus" (in German). Oesterreichische Botanische Zeitschrift 110 (4): 380–400. doi:10.1007/BF01373675. 
  12. ^ Sleeman DP, Cronin JN, Jones P. (1995). "Initial observations on stinkhorn fungi at badgers setts". Irish Naturalist's Journal 26: 76–77. 
  13. ^ a b Sleeman DP, Jones P, Cronin JN (1996). "Investigations of an association between the stinkhorn fungus and badger setts". Journal of Natural History 31 (6): 983–92. doi:10.1080/00222939700770481. 
  14. ^ Clark M, Neal EG, Cheeseman C, Davies J. (1996). Badgers. London: T & AD Poyser. ISBN 0-85661-082-8. 
  15. ^ Hancox M. (1991). "The insect fauna and decomposition of badger carrion". Amateur Entomology Society Bulletin 50: 255–57. 
  16. ^ Bau Y-S, Liu B. (1984). "Phalloides of China". Life Sciences Advances 3 (1): 50–55. 
  17. ^ Saenz JA, Nassar M. (1982). "Mushrooms of Costa Rica - families Phallaceae and Clathraceae". Revista de Biologia Tropical 30 (1): 41–52. 
  18. ^ Hallgrimsson H, Jensson E, Kristinsson H. (1992). "Three new Gasteromycetes discovered in Iceland" (in Icelandic). Natturufraedingurinn 61 (3–4): 219–27. 
  19. ^ Khare B. (1976). "Some Gasteromycetes from Uttar Pradesh India". Indian Phytopahtology 29 (1): 34–38. 
  20. ^ Calonge FD, Harkonen M, Saarimaki T, Mwasumbi L. (1997). "Tanzanian mushrooms and their uses. 5. Some notes on the Gasteromycetes". Karstenia 37 (1): 3–10. 
  21. ^ Orchard AE. (1996). Fungi of Australia. Canberra: Australian Biological Resources Study. p. 141. ISBN 0-643-06907-0. 
  22. ^ Dickinson C, Lucas J. (1979), The Encyclopedia of Mushrooms, London: Orbis Publishing 
  23. ^ Andersson O. (1989). "The distribution and ecology of Phallus impudicus in the Nordic countries". Svensk Botanisk Tidskrift 83 (4): 219–41. 
  24. ^ Bon, Marcel (1987). The Mushrooms and Toadstools of Britain and North-western Europe. London: Hodder & Stoughton. p. 300. ISBN 0-340-39935-X.  The entry for P. impudicus in this book explains the structure and mentions the edibility of the inner layer.
  25. ^ Schaechter E. (1998). In the Company of Mushrooms: A Biologist's Tale. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp. 172–73. ISBN 0-674-44555-4.  Google Books
  26. ^ Kuznecova G, Jegina K, Kuznecovs S, Kuznecovs I. (2007). "Phallus impudicus in thromboprophlyaxis in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and hormonal treatment". The Breast 16 (S1): S56. 


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