Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Starfish, Anemone, Stinkhorn, or just plain Disgusting Red, Fungus



I've noticed outbreaks on Facebook of the Starfish Fungus, Sea Anemone Fungus, Anemone Fungus, Stinkhorn, or as mycologists (fungal folk) like to call it, Aseroe rubra.

Bewildered fans of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens and Centennial Parklands pages have snapped this rather odd looking creature from parks and gardens around Sydney.

I used to think of it as a rare alpine fungus, which seemed to be it its profile in Victoria, but in New South Wales it pops up all over the place. I've spotted it a couple of times amongst some woodchips in my own garden.

The scientific name Aseroe rubra, translates as ‘disgusting red’, which is about right. Its common names also do a good job of describing it. This fungus is like a large, land, sea anemone with outstretched red tentacles and an evil-smelling brown-green slime in the centre. It all emerges from an innocuous looking egg-like structure.

The unpleasant odour, like rotting meat, is to attract flies which will then spread the spores. You may remember our Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) which produces similar evil smells to attract flies, in this case to cross-pollinate the giant flowers, and my blog about how fungi can produced similar off smells in other flowers.

It seems that our Starfish Fungus will grow in pretty much any rich humic soil, in a sheltered spot. In Victoria, as I said, it occurs almost exclusively in alpine areas, but in Tasmania it grows in lowland sites close to the coast (and perhaps also the mountains?). It's also known from New Zealand and New Caledonia.

Around Sydney (and in odd places around the world - see below), it pops out of wood chip mulch. The fungal hyphae are apparently growing in the wood.

Aseroe rubra was the first species of fungus to be collected and described from Australia. Jacques Labillardière, a member of the D'Entrecasteaux expedition, collected the specimen on 1 May 1792 at Recherche Bay in southern Tasmania and published an account of it in 1800.

In 1829 the species was already growing in a glasshouse at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, in London, on soil imported from Australia. A very opportunistic fungus.

Images: I copied these from various places on the web a couple of years ago so sorry and thanks to those who took and displayed them.

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Wes said...

Noticed a variant of Asero√ę rubra, the Sea Anemone or Starfish Stinkhorn fungus in North Balwyn, near Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Took a stroll through Greythorn park on Christmas day and noticed quite a few pink-red starfish shaped fungi that resembled fleshy flowers that were cup-like in that they were 'indented' unlike the sea anemone variety.

They had a not unpleasant but meaty odour that flies were attracted to. They didn't seem slimy as such.

Obviously growing on woodchip mulch under a variety of native and European trees.

Hoping to post pictures taken at the time.

Tim Entwisle said...

Interesting. They do vary a lot in colour, texture, shape, and smell but if very distinctive it would be worth also sending a picture to Tom May at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne (I'm sure there is a 'Fungimap' contact on their webpage). But please post so I can see too!
Tim

Elizabeth Mahnken said...

I had never heard of the starfish fungus before but was very happy to see one pop up in the lawn around my vegetable patch thismorning! We live in rural north east Tasmania. After some searching I came across this site which has been most informative - thanks. Interestingly enough I didn't notice any odour at all and I did get quite close to take a photo. Certainly the flies were being drawn to it so something must have been attracting them. Have sent off the details to fungimap

Tim Entwisle said...

Thanks for the feedback. Nice to have a report from the State from which it was first described! Yes I think the flies suggest at least a slight odour, although the colour and look of the fungus are also attractants. Good that you are in contact with Fungimap as well.

Anonymous said...

I found some in my wood chips in my garden today, and they smell so bad! I live in Brisbane, QLD.

Tim Entwisle said...

Nice to have a report from Queensland. I expect it is all over the country but often missed (despite the smell and strong colour!) or not identified.
Tim

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