Clathrus Columnatus: The Ultimate Mushroom Guide
About The Clathrus Columnatus Mushroom
Clathrus Columnatus is a saprobic species of basidiomycete fungus in the family Phallaceae. It has a widespread distribution and has been found in Africa, Australasia, and the Americas.
Similar to other stinkhorn fungi, the fruiting body, known as the receptaculum, starts as a subterranean "egg" form. As the fungus develops, the receptaculum expands and erupts out of the protective volva, ultimately developing into mature structures characterized by two to five long vertical orange or red spongy columns, joined together at the apex. The fully grown receptaculum reaches heights of 8 cm (3.1 in) tall.
The inside surfaces of the columns are covered with a fetid olive-brown spore-containing slime, which attracts flies and other insects that help disseminate the spores. Although once considered undesirable, the fungus is listed as edible. It is found commonly in the mulch.
Other names: Column Stinkhorn.
Clathrus Columnatus Identification
Saprobic; growing alone or gregariously; often near woody debris (sometimes directly from stumps or living trees) in lawns, gardens, cultivated soil, and so on; spring through fall, or overwinter in warm climates; distributed in North America from roughly Pennsylvania to the Gulf Coast and Mexico; also found in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.
Immature Fruiting Body
Like a whitish "egg" 2–3 cm high; when sliced revealing the red to orange stinkhorn-to-be encased in a brownish gelatinous substance.
Mature Fruiting Body
5–12 cm high; 2–4 cm wide; consisting of 3–5 column-like arms arising separately (not from a shared stem structure) and joined seamlessly at the apex; arms arising from a white volva; base attached to white rhizomorphs.
Up to about 1 cm thick; more or less equal; sometimes becoming flattened on the outer edge; hollow; spongy and soft; finely pocketed; orange to red, fading to pinkish or pinkish-orange or nearly yellow.
Sac-like, encasing the base of the fruiting body; white.
Brown; produced on the inner edges of the arms near or just below the apex of the stinkhorn; malodorous.
Spores 3.5–4.5 x 1.5–2 µm; subellipsoid to cylindric; smooth; hyaline to faintly yellowish in KOH and Melzer's reagent; walls not cyanophilic; often with one small droplet near each end. Sphaerocysts of the branch context 16–56 µm across; subglobose to irregular; smooth; walls 0.5–1 µm thick; hyaline in KOH. Volval hyphae interwoven; occasionally branching; 2–8 µm wide; smooth; thin-walled; hyaline in KOH; clamp connections not found.
Clathrus Columnatus Edibility
The words of William Gilson Farlow, published in 1890, serve as a warning to those who might be inclined to consume Clathrus columnatus: "The odor of fully grown specimens of the order Phalloidea is so repulsive that the question as to their poisonous character when eaten by men has not often been the subject of the experiment."
Farlow described two cases of poisoning, one involving a young girl "who ate a small piece of the fungus, and was seized with violent convulsions followed by loss of speech and a deep sleep lasting 52 hours"; the other case involved hogs that ate the fungus found in patches in oak woods, and died 12–15 hours later.
Despite this early report of poisoning, Orson K. Miller, Jr. notes that the taste of the egg is mild, and lists the species as edible.
Clathrus Columnatus Taxonomy & Etymology
The species was first named by the French botanist Louis Augustin Guillaume Bosc in 1811. Christian Gottfried Daniel Nees von Esenbeck transferred it into Laternea in 1858, a genus intended to accommodate those Clathrus-like species with arms arranged in columns rather than a network; in its current meaning, Laternea includes species that have gleba suspended below the arch of the receptaculum by trabeculae (columns that extend from the peridium to the central core of the receptaculum).
Other genera to which the species has been transferred include Linderia by Gordon Herriot Cunningham in 1932, Colonnaria by Eduard Fischer in 1933, and Linderiella by Cunningham in 1942. Colonnaria, Linderia, and Linderiella are now considered obsolete genera, as they have been subsumed into Clathrus.
The specific epithet columnatus is Latin, meaning "supported by pillars".
Curtis Gates Lloyd wrote in 1906 "in Florida, it is known to the natives as "Dead Men's Fingers." however in recent times Dead Men's Fingers usually refers to Xylaria polymorpha.
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