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Phallus rubicundus

[ Agaricomycetes > Phallales > Phallaceae > Phallus . . . ]

by Michael Kuo

This fascinating stinkhorn is often identified as "Mutinus elegans," but close inspection reveals that Phallus rubicundus has a clearly distinguished, separate head that holds the spore-saturated brown slime; species of Mutinus bear their slime on the upper part of a stem structure that lacks a clearly distinguished head.

Phallus rubicundus appears to be fairly widespread east of the Great Plains. I have found it in Illinois and Michigan (always in woodchip beds), and I have had photos of the species sent to me from as far away as Kansas City, Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Many photos have come from northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, where Phallus rubicundus appears to be spreading with commercial mulch. If I were a betting man, I would lay odds on the likelihood that some Chicagoland landscaping company or mulch retailer brought Phallus rubicundus to the area with mulch imported from a subtropical location. The same may be true in New York City; Gary Lincoff (2006) describes Phallus rubicundus as "the most conspicuous mushroom in Central Park during July" of 2006, "dominant in wood chip mulch nearly everywhere."

Phallus rubicundus was originally described from South Carolina by Bosc, in 1811; it has since been described from Texas (Long 1907) and Africa (Dring 1964, 1977), and reliably reported from Australia to Italy. Long's lengthy description of Texas collections details considerable variability in Phallus rubicundus; he records stout specimens from "lawns or in other grassy unshaded places" in Austin, and smaller specimens from "old sandy fields near rotting oak stumps and along fences in sandy soil" in Denton. Stouter, grass-inhabiting, southern specimens can be seen among the illustrations to the right. The difference in stature may be a result of substrate and nutrition--or perhaps there is more than one species involved. Until I saw photos of the stout version, I could not understand why Burt (1896) would sugest Phallus rubicundus is merely a red form of Phallus ravenelii, since the skinny version seems so clearly different. Dring (1977) described Phallus rubicundus as having a bell-shaped cap and red stem (apparently corresponding to the specimens from Virginia and Texas, to the right), and Phallus aurantiacus as an orange-stemmed, slender species with a conical cap (apparently corresponding to the remaining illustrations).

Description:

Ecology: Saprobic; growing alone or gregariously in gardens, flowerbeds, meadows, lawns, wood chips, sawdust piles, cultivated areas (including soybean fields), and so on; spring and summer, or in winter in warmer climates; reported with frequency in southern North America, but becoming common in Illinois (especially northern Illinois), and occurring with some regularity on the East Coast, at least as far north as Maryland. Phallus rubicundus may have a wider range than mycologists suspect, since it may often be misidentified as a Mutinus.

Immature Fruiting Body: Like a whitish to pale brown "egg"; when sliced revealing the stinkhorn-to-be encased in a gelatinous substance.

Mature Fruiting Body: Spike-like, to about 20 cm; with a 3 to 4.5 cm, fragile cap which is attached to the top of the stem (like a thimble atop a pencil) and is smooth (or slightly roughened, but not pitted and ridged), and covered with olive brown to dark brown slime, often developing a central perforation; with a reddish to orangish or pinkish, hollow stem, about 1.5 cm thick and coarsely pocked with elongated potholes (nearly reticulate); with a whitish to pale brown volva clinging to the stem and around the base; with one or more whitish rhizomorphs at the base.

Microscopic Features: Spores long-elliptical; 3.5-5 x 1.5-2.5 µ; smooth.

REFERENCES: (Bosc, 1811) Fries, 1826. (Fries, 1823; Saccardo, 1888; Long, 1907; Coker & Couch, 1928; Cunningham, 1944/1979; Dring, 1964; Calonge, 2005; Kuo & Methven, 2010.) Herb. Kuo 09110701.

 

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Kuo, M. (2011, April). Phallus rubicundus. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/phallus_rubicundus.html