Clathrus archeri (Berk.) Dring - Devil's Fingers

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

Clathrus archeri - Devil's Fingers

Clathrus archeri is a striking species and reached Europe from Australia or New Zealand at the start of World War I (1914). Like the common stinkhorn and the dog stinkhorn, this fungus emerges from a partly buried white ball.

Distribution

Devil's Fingers is a rare find in Britain, and the only species with which it is likely to be confused is Clathrus ruber, the Red Cage or Lattice Fungus.

Clathrus archeri - more of a side-on view of the arching arms

In Britain this remarkable fungus is commonly known as Devil's Fingers, and in parts of the USA it is referred to as the Octopus Fungus. As global warming advances this species may become more common in Britain, and it will be interesting to see which (if any) of these common names is most generally adopted. One thing is for sure: its appearance and its awful smell guarantee that it will not go unnoticed for long!

Taxonomic history

In 1860 British mycologist Miles Joseph Berkeley described this species and gave it the scientific name Lysurus archeri, thereby establishing its basionym. When this rare (in Europe) fungus was moved to the genus Clathrus by British mycologist Donald Malcolm Dring (1932-1978) in his 1980 monograph on the family Clathraceae, its name became Clathrus archeri. Dring, who worked at Kew Gardens, died suddenly at the age of just 46 - a sad loss to mycology.

Synonyms of Clathrus archeri include Aseroë rubra sensu auct. (= various authors), Anthurus archeri (Berk.) E. Fisher, and Lysurus archeri Berk.

Etymology

The generic name Clathrus means 'a cage', and although its relevance is not immediately obvious when you consider Devil's Fingers it does seem entirely appropriate when applied to Clathrus ruber, the Red Cage Fungus, which is the type species of the Clatrus genus. The specific epitet archeri is probably nothing to do with the 'arching' arms of this stinkhorn, which also happen to form shapes like bows (as used in archery). I am grateful to Dennis C During, Administrator of Wiktionary, who tells me that he is reasonably sure that it is named after Tasmanian architect, politician and amateur naturalist (in particular he was a mushroom collector and botanist) William Archer - see Wikipedia page for details....

Identification guide

Egg of Clathrus archeri

Egg stage

Before rupturing the ball or egg of Clathrus archeri is typically 2 to 3cm in diameter

Clathrus archeri emergin g from its egg

Emerging arms

A large, starfish-like fruitbody whose 4 to 6 (exceptionally 8) arched red arms are coated with a smelly gleba on the upper surface, the mature fruitbody is typically 20cm across with arms arching to 10cm in height. The bright red colour makes this remarkable species very easy to identify; however, it is a relatively rare find in Britain and mainly found in the south of England and in the Channel Islands.

Other features

The arms of Devil's Fingers emerge vertically and spread out, making the gleba accessible to insects; it is by this means that the spores are distributed.

Stem

None.

 

Spores

Ellipsoidal, smooth, 3.5-6 x 1.5-2µm.

Spore print

Olive-brown.

Odour/taste

Strong, unpleasant odour reminescent of rotting meat; no distinctive taste at the young egg stage - I can find no reports about the taste of mature fruitbodies!.

Habitat

Clathrus archeri is saprobic and mainly found in leaf litter under trees and shrubs; also increasingly on bark mulch in parks and gardens.

Season

June to September in southern Britain; several weeks later in locations further south on mainland Europe.

Similar species

Aseroë rubra (Labill.), commonly referred to as the Starfish Fungus, is an extremely rare find in Britain and originates from Australia. Clathrus archeri is unlikely to mistaken for any other British species.

Culinary Notes

In common with other kinds of stinkhorns, Clathrus archeri is not proven to be toxic, but it should be treated as suspect. Even if you can tolerate the stench it's a risky snack. After you! No, no... after you, I insist!

In fact the eggs of various stinkhorns are edible, but there are no records of fights having taken place over these delicacies as there certainly are over truffles, morels and some kinds of edible boletes.

Clathrus archeri - more of a side-on view of the arching arms

Reference Sources

Fascinated by Fungi, Pat O'Reilly 2016.

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

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

This page includes pictures kindly contributed by David Kelly and Andrew Ward.

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