Aseroë rubra (Labill.) Starfish Fungus

Phylum: Basidiomycota - Class: Agaricomycetes - Order: Phallales - Family: Phallaceae

Aseroe rubra, Starfish Fungus or Anemone Stinkhorn, Oxshot Heath, Surrey, England

Aseroe rubra is arguably the most striking of all stinkhorn species found in Britain. It is, however, a non-native species, having been first imported to England from Australia (probably via the Netherlands in 1828, when it was first seen in Kew Gardens, in Surrey). The above picture, kindly contributed by Peter Taylor, was taken on Oxshott Common, in Surrey, and to date (2017) all other recorded sightings in Britain have been from locations in the county of Surrey.

Aseroe rubra, Starfish Fungus or Anemone Stinkhorn

The Starfish Stinkhorn remains a very rare find in Britain, and it was last formally recorded in 2004. This species has also being imported to North America, where it was first recorded in California.

Top view of Aseroe rubra, Starfish Fungus or Anemone Stinkhorn

Distribution

Fairly common in parts of Australia, Aseroe rubra occurs also as a native species in Tasmania, New Zealand, South Africa and on several isolated islands in the Pacific.

The specimen shown above was seen growing (with several others) on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia, where it was photographed by Patrea Andersen. These pictures are shown by kind permission of Patrea, who is the copyright owner. Several other red-toned stinkhorns are found in the same area. Elsewhere in the world red-coloured stinkhorns are found mainly in tropical and subtropical regions, although several Clathrus species are common in Mediterranean climes.

Taxonomic history

The Starfish Stinkhorn was first recorded by French biologist Jacques Labillardière (1755 - 1834), a member of the D'Entrecasteaux expedition, who collected a specimen in 1792 at Recherche Bay, Southern Tasmania, and published a scientific description of it in 1800, thereby establishing its currently-accepted scientific name Aseroë rubra.

Etymology

The generic name Aseroe refers to the spore-bearing sticky, smelly brownish gleba and comes from Greek Asē- and -roe, meaning 'disgusting juice'. The specific epithet rubra refers to the colour of the arms (tentacles!) of the fungal fruitbody; comes from Latin and means red. (Some people refer to this species as the Anemone Stinkhorn, because its red tentacles are reminiscent of certain kinds of Sea Anemones.)

Identification guide

Egg stage of Aseroe rubra, Starfish Fungus or Anemone Stinkhorn

Egg stage

Before rupturing, the pale brown ball or egg of Aseroe rubra is typically 3cm in diameter and often visible above the surface of the leaf litter or rotting woody debris upon which it feeds..

Volva and stem base of Aseroe rubra, Starfish Fungus or Anemone Stinkhorn

Volva

The pink-tinged stem of the Starfish Fungus emerges from its egg, leaving the torn remains of the outer peridium (the rubbery 'shell' of the egg) as a bag-like volva surrounding the base of the stem.

Mature stage of Aseroe rubra, Starfish Fungus or Anemone Stinkhorn

Mature stage

Usually eight, but sometimes as few as six or as many as ten or more initially conjoined but later bifurcated arms (each arm is split just once along two thirds of its length) emerge from the volva of the egg of this stinkhorn; the arms, each typically 3.5cm long, are attached to the top of a whitish stem 5-9cm tall and about 3cm in diameter. At maturity the stems tend to become hollow.

The upper surfaces of the sponge-like stem and the inner parts of the arms are coated with an olive-brown gleba that is laden with spores.

 

Spores

Elongated ellipsoidal, smooth, 4.5-7 x 1.5-2.5µm, inamyloid.

Spore print

Pale olive brown.

Odour/taste

Not anywhere near as strong-smelling as Clathrus archeri, but nevertheless giving off an unpleasant odour (strong enough to attract flies, but not so smelly that people are driven to move home to escape it!) reminiscent of rotting meat; it is likely that there is no distinctive taste at the young egg stage, but I can find no reports about the taste of mature fruitbodies, which may even be poisonous!

Habitat

Aseroe rubra is saprobic and mainly found in leaf litter under trees and shrubs.

Season

Summer and early autumn in southern England.

Similar species

Clathrus archeri lacks a stem and its arms are not bifurcated.

Stem of Aseroe rubra, Starfish Fungus or Anemone Stinkhorn

Culinary Notes

In common with most other kinds of stinkhorns, Aseroe rubra is best treated as suspect and not gathered for eating; indeed, in Britain this fungus is so rare that it really should not be collected.

Reference Sources

Pegler, D.N., Laessoe, T. & Spooner, B.M (1995). British Puffballs, Earthstars and Stinkhorns. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

British Mycological Society, English Names for Fungi.

Dictionary of the Fungi; Paul M. Kirk, Paul F. Cannon, David W. Minter and J. A. Stalpers; CABI, 2008

Taxonomic history and synonym information on these pages is drawn from many sources but in particular from the British Mycological Society's GB Checklist of Fungi and (for basidiomycetes) on Kew's Checklist of the British & Irish Basidiomycota.

Acknowledgements

The photographs on this page were taken in Surrey UK, by Peter Taylor, and in Queensland, Australia, by Patrea Andersen.

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