Clavariadelphus pistillaris (Fr.) Donk - Giant Club

Phylum: Basidiomycota - Class: Agaricomycetes - Order: Gomphales - Family: Gomphaceae

Clavariadelphus pistillaris

Sticking up from the forest floor like ancient standing stones, and often with the weathered appearance to match, these massive fairy clubs might more appropriately be described as goblin clubs or troll truncheons. These are the archetypal weapons depicted in the hands of Neanderthal men as they drag their womenfolk, always by the hair, into their cold dark caves. The world may have moved on (a little) but Clavariadelphus pistillaris seems to remain stuck in the past.

This untufted fairy club, type species of the genus Clavariadelphus, is easy to spot when young and yellow, but with age the fruitbodies take on the dull coloration of the decaying leaf litter around them and so, despite their large size, can be missed.

There is no clear delineation between the fertile surface and the stem: the hymenial (fertile) surface comprises most of the club and is at first smooth, becoming pruinose as the spores mature. Giant Club fungi are inedible.

Some club-like and coral-like fungi are ascomycetous, but fairy clubs of Clavariadelphus and related genera belong to the Basidiomycota.

Clavariadelphus pistillaris, Algarve region of Portugal

Distribution

Rare in mainland Britain and Ireland as it is in other parts of northern Europe, Clavariadelphus pistillaris is fairly common in the countries of southern Europe.

The Giant Club is also recorded in North America and many other temperate parts of the world.

Three of clubs - Clavariadelphus pistillaris in Portugal

Taxonomic history

First described in 1753 scientifically by Carl Linnaeus, who gave it the binomial name Clavaria pistillaris - a name subsequently sanctioned by Elias Magnus Fries - the Giant Club was transferred to the genus Clavariadelphus in 1933 by Dutch mycologist Marinus Anton Donk (1908 - 1972).

Synonyms of Clavariadelphus pistillaris include Clavaria pistillaris L., and Clavaria herculeana Lightf.

Etymology

The generic name comes from the Latin clavaria meaning shaped like a club and the Greek adel'phos meaning brother [which in turn derives from a- (prefix meaning, in this case, addition or commonality) plus delphos meaning womb - because siblings come (mostly...) from the same womb]. The implication is that fungi of this genus are closely related, like brothers, to those of the genus Clavaria, since they are similar in shape.

The specific epithet pistillaris is much more straightforward and refers to a pistil or pestle, the club-shape implement used with a mortar (a stone cup) for grinding herbs etc.

Identification guide

Clavariadelphus pistillaris p a young fruitbody

Description

Occasionally somewhat laterally flattened and longitudinally wrinkled or grooved, these large simple (not forking) truncheon-shaped clubs (tapering slightly towards the base) have rounded tips and are at first yellow, turning various shades of pink, mauve, violet and brown with age or when bruised.

The individual clubs are typically 8 to 30cm tall and 5 to 8cm across at their widest point when fully developed. Firm when young, the white flesh of Clavariadelphus pistillaris turns violet-brown when cut; it becomes soft and spongy when fruitbodies reach full maturity.

Close-up photograph of Clavariadelphus pistillaris

Occasionally the hollow upper region of an old fruitbody splits, and insects are then able to access the interior via holes in the top of the club. This should sound a warning note to anyone intent on gathering for the pot these reportedly edible but far from delectable fungi.

Basidia

The basidia are mainly four spored with a minority being bisporic.

Spores of Clavaria pistillaris, Giant Club fungus

Spores

Ellipsoidal, smooth, 11-16 x 6-10µm, non amyloid with an eccentric germ pore.

Show larger image

Spore print

White.

Odour/taste

Bitter tasting, developing an unpleasant sickly odour when fully mature.

Habitat & Ecological role

Saprobic on leaf litter. In Britain this species is most often seen on the ground under Beech trees in southern England and south-east Wales; however, in countries of southern mainland Europe, where Clavariadelphus pistillaris is a more common find, it occurs quite often under oak trees.

Season

Late August to the end of November in Britain and Ireland, but right through to early February in Mediterranean countries.

Similar species

Clavulinopsis fusiformis has a similar form but is golden yellow and much smaller.

Culinary Notes

The Giant Club is widely reported to be an edible fungus, although Italian mycologist Pierluigi Angeli adds the qualification that he considers it to be of poor quality. American mycologist Michael Wood cautiously refers to it as 'possibly edible', While David Arora, author or Mushrooms Demistified, states that the taste and texture are 'reminiscent of stale rope'. I can't recall ever trying to eat rope, stale or otherwise; however, because I live in Wales UK where Giant Clubs are rare finds, I never gather them for food as I think it's best to leave these curious clubs for others (people and/or bugs) to enjoy.

Clavariadelphus pistillaris, Algarve region of southern Portugal

Reference Sources

Fascinated by Fungi, Pat O'Reilly 2016.

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.

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