Sunday, July 3, 2011

I wonder at the Stinkhorn

This rare living specimen was discovered on the forest floor of Mt Makiling Botanical Garden University of the Philippines at Los Baños, Laguna, 2005

You are called stinkhorn, others call you earth's penis;
you're misunderstood, save the spirits and fairies,
I wonder why.

You come from nowhere, accompany thunder and lightning,
rising in the evening, peep at the sun before dying.
I wonder why.

You clean the forest floor through nature's chemistry,
prepare the nursery for new life - and you are free.
Should I wonder why?


Stinkhorns belong to Order Phallales, Class Basidiomycetes - to which mushrooms belong. They are so-called stinkhorns because they emit a strong stench resembling putrefying meat that attracts houseflies (Musca domestica) and blue-bottle flies (Caliphora vomitaria), among other organisms. Nature designed the spores as dark green to black mucus that conveniently clings to the insects' appendages, body and wings. Dissemination is enhanced by the flies' habit of visiting decaying materials where the spores they carry will germinate and develop. Flies also have a habit of constantly grooming themselves, thus virtually sowing the spores on the new substrate material.

This specimen is the beautiful tropical genus Dictyophora, closely resembling the popular Phallus impudicus (earth's penis). It is rare to find a complete specimen with delicate white lacy veil hanging from the slimy cap like head. Typical of mushrooms, this thallus structure is the mature and reproductive phase, whereas the immature or vegetative phase phase is in the form of a cottony mass embedded in the substrate on which the organism grows. The latter also serves as the dormant stage and is usually spent much longer than the reproductive stage.

Old folks associate mushrooms with fairies and spirits because of the sudden bloom from microscropic mycelia to giant thalli overnight, especially after heavy rains accompanied by thunder and lightning. Lightning "spawns" mushrooms by converting atmospheric nitrogen into nitrates. Nitrates are dissolved by rain, they fertilizer the mycellia, a universal phenomenon that also explains the sudden greening of the landscape.

Stinkhorns, like all fungi get their energy from decomposing materials, being saprophytes - unlike plants that derive their energy directly from the sun by means of photosynthesis.
Without fungi and other decomposers, our world would be filled with litters of dead oirganisms and their wastes.



Mt Makiling Botanical Garden, UPLB Laguna, 2005. Photo by Dr AV Rotor.
References: Plants of the Philippines, Uiniversity of the Philippines

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