Phallus impudicus

Stinkhorn

Order Phallales, Family Phallaceae 

HEAD PITTED, COATED WITH GREENISH SLIME

Head:  2-4 cm wide; 2-4.5 cm tall; conical with hole at top; covered when young with brownish green slime; in mature specimens, slime often washed away or carried away by insects, revealing white, pitted surface of head; strong fetid (or sperm) smell

Phallus impudicusSTALK WHITE, GROWING FROM PINKISH EGG

Stalk:  7-25 cm tall, 2-3 cm thick; white; erect or tilting; hollow; slightly spongy; growing from pinkish, gelatinous egg

IN GARDEN BEDS AND GRASS, OFTEN UNDER LILAC BUSHES

EDIBLE FOR THE BRAVE

Lookalikes or smellalikes:

Morchella sp. -- no sac/egg at base, does not smell!. No green slime

Mutinus caninus -- pink stalk, more slender

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The stinkhorn is the mycophobe's dream: Smelly. Slimy. Weird. Smutty. But a mycophile sees this mushroom and thinks: Strong. Intricate. Different. Love.

You can enliven life at the office by bringing in a stinkhorn for show-and-tell. We did this and asked for volunteers to pose for photos with the mushroom. No takers. Once, according to Denver amateur mycologist Jerry LaVelle, a co-worker brought a stinkhorn egg to office in a bag. During the day it grew into a full-fledged stinkhorn, with slimy head and erect stalk. If that's not great office entertainment, what is? 

"I will never forget walking up 13th Avenue with a friend and under this sappling is one of those," reports mycophobic Denver resident Mike Lund.  "And it's all sticky and full of those bugs that bite you, and it stunk really bad."

Whatever you think of this mushroom, you should know this:  A women who lived well into her 90s picked stinkhorn eggs on her morning walks, boiled 'em, and ate 'em. 

One of the authors of this website, Jason Salzman, had resisted eating this mushroom for some reason, but he eventually ate it. Here’s his story:

Finally Eating the Phallus

For years I’ve kept my desire to eat the Phallus impudicus in the closet.

But this year’s summer rains kept putting the Phallus in my face, literally, when I was weeding my garden. The mushroom has been loving my moist wood-chip mulch, which warms up nicely on the east side of our home.

With their long white shafts and slimy greenish head, these penis-shaped mushrooms emerge from what looks like a smooth pinkish golf-ball.

It’s one of the few mushrooms that you often smell before you see. Noted mycologist Charles McIlvaine called the odor “aggravatingly offensive, attracting blow flies in quantities.”

I’d been flirting with the Phallus all summer, thinking I’d eat it, then rejecting the idea due to its bad reputation and its looks. Then I read in the Colorado Mushroom Club newsletter that urban mushroom hunter Rob Hallack ate the Phallus.

Hallack wrote: “If you can make it past the slimy texture of the gelatinous goo inside, the grainy texture of the spore mass, and the dull green color, they aren’t bad.”

After that endorsement, I knew the time had come for me to take the plunge as well.

I recruited my parents.

We all sat down together for a mid-morning snack in their Denver apartment.

Fortunately, you don’t eat the slimy part—only the pink balls that produce the mushrooms. We cut these balls in thin slices, revealing a white interior with a beautiful green stripe around the edge, followed by a gelatinous layer.

The eggs are hollow in the middle, like a bagel, my dad pointed out. I tried to make myself believe they smelled like radish, but the odor had a certain rottenness about it, I must admit.

Mom claimed that President Nixon, who famously ate (and enjoyed) a Phallus on his visit to China, consumed only the skirt-like veil that appears on some species, but she had no proof of this. So we continued.

We fried the egg slices in canola oil for a few minutes until brown on both sides. We were happy to see the gelatinous outer layer fade away, leaving a beautiful crispy morsel, with layered colors. Well, morsel makes them sound too good. I really wanted them to be delicious, but they were more like something that had been in the refrigerator too long, sort of stale but not yet gone bad.

But one of our eggs, which seemed fresher, was much better, leaving us wanting to try them again one day, with the freshest specimens possible.

We were left wondering why the Chinese like Phallus so much. Perhaps because they eat a different species than our garden variety. Or perhaps because the Chinese are known to enjoy eating the penises of many animals, and so all penises taste good. In fact, a neighbor told me his mother-in-law, Sheila Porter, ate in a restaurant in China that serves only various types of penis. But the penises, she says, were “disappointing, as usual.”