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Clathrus archeri (devil's fingers)

Clathrus archeri, also known as devil's fingers, has a gelatinous egg stage from which the fruitbody arises, its four to eight reddish arms each coated with dark, foul-smelling tissue.

Clathrus archeri in soil

Clathrus archeri (Photo: Geoffrey Kibby)

Species information

Common name: 

devil's fingers; octopus stinkhorn

Conservation status: 

An introduced species to Britain, apparently still spreading, and not of conservation concern here. Also alien to Europe, but red-listed in the Netherlands. Fairly frequent where native in Australia and New Zealand.

Habitat: 

On soil, often amongst decaying wood chips, around old stumps, or in leaf litter, growing in clusters.

Known hazards: 

None. Like other phalloids, the species has a sticky, foul-smelling gleba (fertile tissue) when mature. The unpleasant odour attracts flies which disperse the spores. Although quite inedible at this stage it is not toxic and is quite harmless.

Taxonomy

Kingdom: 
Fungi
Phylum: 
Basidiomycota
Subphylum: 
Agaricomycotina
Order: 
Phallales
Family: 
Phallaceae
Genus: Clathrus

About this species

Clathrus archeri is one of the phalloid fungi (Phallales) and is related to the common stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus), a well-known woodland fungus in Britain. It similarly produces a sticky spore-bearing tissue designed to attract flies which are the agents of spore dispersal. Like other phalloids, C. archeri accumulates manganese in the egg-stage, apparently important chemically in producing the sugars and odorous substances found in the fertile tissue.

The devil's fingers fungi was first described as Lysurus archeri by the Rev. M.J. Berkeley in 1860, and later referred to the genus Anthurus due to its free arms rather than cage-like form. It was then placed in the genus Clathrus by Dring (1980), a genus which includes the so-called cage fungi, many of them tropical in distribution or native to the southern hemisphere.

Clathrus archeri is one of several phalloids which have been introduced to Britain, and it was first recorded in Britain from Cornwall in 1946. It has since spread in southern England, and is now locally frequent, especially favouring wood-chip mulch.

Genus: 
Clathrus

Discover more

Geography and distribution

Clathrus archeri is native to Australia and New Zealand, and has been introduced elsewhere. It is now present in parts of Europe, where it was first recorded in 1914 in France, apparently introduced with military supplies at the start of the First World War. It is also found in North America, especially in California, where it was first reported in 1982 and considered to have been introduced with exotic plants.

It was first found in Britain at Penzance in Cornwall and later was found to be established in parts of Sussex. Since then it has been found in Bedfordshire, Hampshire, Kent, Suffolk, Surrey, and the Channel Islands, and is apparently slowly expanding its distribution.

Description

The genus Clathrus differs from Phallus in having either a lattice-like fruitbody or tentacle-like arms rather than a single stem on which the gleba (fertile tissue) is produced. Clathrus species are commonly known as ‘cage fungi’, as many of them are lattice-like in form and lack free arms.

Clathrus archeri is a distinctive fungus, developing from a gelatinous egg stage, and almost squid-like in form, with a short stalk-like base and reddish spore-bearing arms.

The egg-stage is ovoid in shape and 4 - 6 cm high by 2 - 4 cm wide. The surface is whitish and soon becomes marked with furrows which outline the arms. The endoperidium (inner layer of fruitbody wall) is greenish-brown and gelatinous. The gleba (spore-bearing tissue) is olive-brown, blackish at maturity, mucilaginous (sticky), and borne on the inner face of the arms. The receptacle has a short, hollow stem 3 - 6 cm high and 1 - 3 cm wide and is pale below and pinkish above. It has four to eight slender, pointed, chambered, pink to reddish arms each 5 - 10 cm long. These are joined at the tip at first, but soon break free, spreading and drooping. The spore mass is olive-brown.

Threats and conservation

Where native in Australia and New Zealand this species is fairly frequent in wild habitats, and is not considered threatened or of conservation concern. In Europe it is introduced but is generally scarce where it occurs. It is noted as rare in Bulgaria and is protected on the Black Sea coast. It also appears on the Red List for the Netherlands as sensitive (‘gevoelig’). It is still spreading in Britain, possibly encouraged by use of wood-chip mulch, and not considered of conservation concern here.

Uses

The unexpanded eggs of stinkhorns (Phallus spp.), despite their gelatinous nature, are eaten and even considered a delicacy in some countries. However, there is little such use for species of the genus Clathrus, and nothing seems to be known about such uses of C. archeri. The related C. ruber is said to be edible in the egg stage, although there is at least one early report of poisoning from this species. Clathrus ruber has also been suspected in France to cause eczema, convulsions, sickness and even cancer if handled, though this is quite without foundation. Although various folk-uses are known for stinkhorns (Phallus, Mutinus spp.), there appears to be nothing specifically documented for C. archeri.

Octopus stinkhorn at Kew

Clathrus archeri can be found occasionally in the Gardens, appearing in autumn especially in beds mulched with wood chips.

Preserved specimens of Clathrus archeri from throughout its range are maintained in the Kew Mycology Herbarium and, although not accessible to the general public, are available for study by research workers worldwide.

References and credits

Arora, D. & Burk, W.R. (1982). Clathrus archeri, A Stinkhorn New to North America. Mycologia 74: 501-504.

Checklist of the British and Irish Basidiomycota. Available online.

Dennis, R.W.G. & Wakefield, E.M. (1946). New or Interesting British Fungi. Trans. Brit. Mycol. Soc. 29: 141 – 165.

Dring, D. M. (1980). Contributions Towards a Rational Arrangement of the Clathraceae. Kew Bull. 35:1-96

Drumeva-Dimcheva, M. & Gyosheva-Bogoeva, M. The Macromycetes Fungi of Bulgaria.

Fungus Records Database of Britain and Ireland. Available online.

Pegler, D.N., Laessøe, T. & Spooner, B.M. (1995). British Puffballs, Earthstars and Stinkhorns. An Account of the British Gasteroid Fungi. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Spooner, B. & Laessøe, T. (1994). The folklore of ‘gasteromycetes’. Mycologist 8: 119 – 123.

Stijve, T. (1997). Close Encounters with Clathrus ruber, the Latticed Stinkhorn. Australas. Mycol. Newsletter 16: 11 – 15.

Kew Science Editor: Brian Spooner

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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