Fungi that Looks like Human Body Parts: Part Two
Devil’s Fingers Mushroom / Clathrus archeri
Generally known as devil’s fingers or octopus stinkhorn, this bizarre fungus can sometimes resemble a ghostly white hand that seems to be reaching out of the soil. Clathrus archeri starts as an egg-shaped pod that usually cracks open revealing what appears to be a pink embryo within a fine membrane. If the main pod develops enough then the ‘zombie-hand’ is said to appear as shown in the first picture (above). This variation is known as C. archeri var. alba and has only been recorded in India.
In most cases the membrane breaks and reveals up to seven tentacles that are bright red and resemble a young octopus. It smells of decomposing flesh and a recent spate of sightings in the United Kingdom prompted a number of news channels to call it the alien egg fungus.
Bleeding Tooth Fungi / Hydnellum peckii
During the early stages of its development Hydnellum peckii looks remarkably like a large molar that has been pulled out and is still splattered with blood from the extraction process. This has given it the common name – The Bleeding Tooth Fungus. It was originally from North America but has spread as far as Iran in the Middle East. Ironically, the blood-like fluid contains a pigment with anticoagulant properties comparable to the drug heparin. As it grows it loses its tooth like structure and eventually turns brown. This fungus is not known to be toxic but although it looks a little like a sweet or a dessert it is extremely bitter and classed as inedible.
Lingzhi or Red Reishi Mushroom / Ganoderma lucidum
Known as both the Lingzhi and Red Reishi mushroom, this fungus is highly prized for its medicinal properties. An important ingredient in Chinese medicines, it has been used for over 2000 years. It is often described as the spirit or soul mushroom and contains active compounds believed to stimulate the immune system thus promoting general well-being. It bears a striking resemblance to the human kidney and coincidentally is believed to have body cleansing properties.
Stinkhorn : Shameless Phallus / Phallus impudicus
As far as shape goes, this fungus bears a striking resembles to an erect phallus. Impudicus actually translates as shameless. It is widespread across North America and Europe where it is known as the Common Stinkhorn. It certainly smells bad like a cross between rotting meat and sweaty gym shoes. There is a popular belief that gardeners of English country estates were often ordered to rise at dawn and destroy any of these mushrooms that had sprouted overnight in case they inadvertently aroused any passing gentlewomen. Apparently these mushrooms can be eaten but due to their smell and texture are somewhat difficult to swallow. Common wisdom (which is often wrong) states that they have aphrodisiac qualities and are often fed in large quantities to young bulls to improve their performance. The tip of the mushroom often exudes a smelly slime said to be highly attractive to flies.
Beef Steak Fungi / Fistulina hepatica
Its common English name is may be Beefsteak Fungus but when it’s full and well developed it also has a striking resemblance to the human liver. It can be eaten and is occasionally available in French markets were it is sometimes known as Foie de boeuf or ox liver. In fact, Fistulina hepatica literaly translates as’ little tubes liver’. During food shortages it has been used as an alternative to meat but often requires lengthy cooking and must be harvested while still young. Just like meat it bleeds when cut and if prepared correctly, by simmering in hot water, does acquire a similar texture to liver. It is said to taste nothing like steak.
Brain Puffball / Calvatia craniiformis
Often called the Brain Puffball or the Skull-shaped Puffball this fungus clearly resembles its name. So striking is the similarity that people who have seen a fully grown specimen in its natural habitat have been fooled into thinking they have found human or animal remains. For centuries it has been used in traditional Japanese and Chinese medicine, usually as a dressing for wounds as it contains compounds that aid blood coagulation. It is said that while the flesh of the mushroom is white and firm it is edible and has a mild and pleasant flavour.
Every year many hundreds of people are poisoned by eating fungus and mushrooms that they thought were edible and non-toxic. This article is not a guide to which mushrooms and fungus can or cannot be eaten. For safety reasons we advise against eating any of the fungus or mushrooms described in this list without first consulting an expert and ensuring your own safety.