The Mushroom that Started it All

Clathrus Ruber, aka red basket stinkhorn, red cage mushroom, lattice mushroom, or the freakiest fungi around (for me), was the first wild mushroom I ever really took notice of. It was under a beautifully maintained tree in Golden Gate Park and when I first saw it, I thought it was a baby toy. The kind that look like bucky-balls. IMG_6065 When I got closer and looked into its cracked skull like holes and saw the spongy texture with sage greenish goo inside,  I became obsessed with it. This impressive mushroom has started my city mushrooming hobby. Since this find, I’ve grown a pair of mushroom eyes and have found over 2 dozen types of mushroom in San Francisco parks. I have only positively i.d.ed two. The Clathrus Ruber and a Chip Cherry. The others I can group into their broadest types but have not pin-pointed exactly what they are. I haven’t gone into doing spore prints, a way to narrow down the kind of mushroom you have and if it is edible or not, or really picked any that I find. I like to enjoy them intact to the ground and growing. I’m not a mushroom hunter, I’m a mushroom voyeur.

But back to the star of the show, my Ruber friends. They are part of the stinkhorn family of fungus. Stinkhorns propagate by opening up their fruiting bodies, the part we see above ground, and oozing a stinky goo that attracts flies. The flies will come and get the goo with the spores in it on their legs and carry it elsewhere. Other stinkhorms include, a red octopus like dear called Clathrus archeri, the octopus stinkhorn. And the Phallus family that got its name because they are penis like. The fruiting body emerges from the ground like an egg with a soccer ball texture to it. IMG_6071This stage is almost as cool as when it opens to the cage. I find it amazing that nature can produce geometric shapes, like a bee’s honey combs. They grow in clusters and are only attached by a thin root like stem. I find many that have been dug up or kicked. I’m always sad to see this. The poor thing didn’t get a chance to shine. The smell of the stinkhorn I hear, is like rotting meat, but with the ones I’ve found in SF, I haven’t noticed too much of a scent. It may have to do with how long it has been open to the elements. I have found some that are med. orange, some white and some the most beautiful shade of peachy-pink. Some have been about 4″ around. Like in the picture at top. Some others have been around 9″ at it’s longest point. I saw on instagram that someone saw one at the Palace of Fine Arts, but I’ve only found them in Golden Gate Park. Usually growing in wood chip piles. If you want more info on the Clathrus Ruber and other mushrooms in the Bay Area, check out the Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast book. Link below or just go rambling in the parks.

Noah Siegel and Christian Schwarz’s book on mushrooms in Northern California.

Empress Norma

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