Ridiculous Fungi: A List

Some of the most preposterous mushrooms I've encountered, as well as a few I haven't.

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Fungi that I take personally

  1. Cortinarius traganus. Bright purple. Smells like pears. Inedible. I once drove two hours to a national forest, stepped out of my car, and found myself surrounded by a tremendous number of unidentified purple mushrooms that smelled like pears, under which circumstances I think most people would question their (1) sanity and (2) sobriety.

  2. Clitocybe odora. It’s a lurid greenish turquoise-y (term of art, folks) color, smells like anise, and transforms your $6 bottle of cooking brandy into a $9 bottle of anisette, which works great in pizza dolce. During the month I was soaking said toadstools in said brandy, a colleague asked me jestingly what my spirit mushroom was. I do believe I will never top that answer.

  3. Marasmius alliaceus. A delicate wee thing, shorter than your thumb, with a stalk like a bit of black thread and a smell like getting slugged with a baseball bat made of garlic.

  4. Hydnellum peckii, or that nightmare you had three weeks ago and forgot about until now. Common name: strawberries and cream. I’m not sure which sick mind decided that, but my money’s on Stephen King.

  5. Gomphus clavatus, or pig’s ear. Technically edible. Whoever gave it the second name of violet chanterelle was trying very hard to sell these, which I imagine only works once. This is the one mushroom I’ve tasted after cooking and immediately dumped in the trash. (See third recipe.) The best thing that can be said about it, alimentarily, is that the worms have usually left the premises by the time you pick it. It is, however, beautiful. It is also endangered, which would have been nice to know a little sooner.

  6. Russula xerampelina, the shrimp russula or crab brittlegill. It’s edible, smells strongly like shrimp, and explodes when thrown at a tree, which is in fact a recommended method of Russula identification. You’d think that between the smell, the exploding, and the name “crab brittlegill,” this mushroom is plenty ridiculous. But it turns out that you also need to bite off a tiny bit of each mushroom to taste whether it’s spicy (indicating a different, inedible lookalike) and spit out and discard if so. After nibbling the edge of every specimen in a basketful, with much spitting of peppery bits, I deeply resent this mushroom.

Fungi that I haven’t met (yet)

  1. Phallus impudicus, or the common stinkhorn. (The difference between the Latin and English names is tragic.) Grows out of a witch’s egg. Rubbed on bulls before bullfights. Edible raw when young, with a taste like radishes. Smells like death. Used in love potions. Possibly symbiotic with badgers. I made none of this up.

  2. Microglossum viride, or the green earth tongue. This is just wrong. Everything about this is wrong. I object to its existence and would like to complain to management.

  3. Clathrus archeri, or the octopus stinkhorn. Everything I said about M. viride applies. Native to Australia, because of course it is. Arrived in California in the 1970s along with polyester leisure suits and macrame plant hangers, though apparently only Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties are presently affected. It remains unclear whether it’s edible at maturity, since people who try wind up vomiting from the smell.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, etc.


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