Gateway to the Classics: Handbook of Nature Study: Flowerless Plants by Anna Botsford Comstock
 
Handbook of Nature Study: Flowerless Plants by  Anna Botsford Comstock

The Stinkhorns

Lesson CLXXXV

To give a nature-study lesson on the stinkhorn is quite out of the question, for the odor of these strange growths is so nauseating that even to come near to one of them in the garden is a disagreeable experience. The reason for mentioning them at all is because of the impression made by them that most mushrooms are ill smelling, which is a slander.

It is a pity that these fungi are so offensive that we do not care to come near enough to them to admire them, for they are most interesting in appearance. The scientific name of our commonest genus when translated means "the net bearers," and it is a most appropriate name. The stout, white stem is composed of network without and within. The outer covering of the stem seems to tear loose from the lower portion as the stem elongates, and is lifted so that it hangs as a veil around the bottom of the bell-shaped cap, which is always covered with a pitted network. The mycelium, or spawn, of the stinkhorn consists of strands which push their way through the ground or through the decaying vegetable matter on which they feed. On these strands are produced the stinkhorns, which at first look like eggs; but later the top of the egg is broken, and the strange horn-shaped fungus pushes up through it. The spores are borne in the chambers of the cap, and when ripe the substance of these chambers dissolves into a thick liquid in which the spores float. The flies are attracted by the fetid odor and come to feast upon these fungi and to lay their eggs within them, and incidentally they carry the spores away on their brushy feet, and thus help to spread the species.


[Illustration]

A stinkhorn.

Photo by George F. Atkinson.


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