Tuesday, September 06, 2011

An Eye-catching Mushroom

Unlike a lot of other wildlife preserves that maintain native wildflower meadows, the fields at Cold Brook Reserve are sowed with corn. The corn is planted and harvested by a local farmer, who works under contract with the county. While corn monoculture is not ideal for producing a diverse array of insects and breeding birds, it presumably leaves behind ample food for migrating and wintering birds.

On Saturday, there were a lot of these eye-catching mushrooms nestled in among the rows of corn. There are a few species with a similar shape and color, but I think these are Phallus rubicundus, also known as devil's stinkhorn. These are distinguishable from the similarly-colored Mutinus elegans by having a separate spore-bearing head (more evident in the photo below). These mushrooms have a red shaft and a pointed head that is covered with a greenish brown slime that contains the spores. The slime's odor attracts many insects, such as the picture-winged fly in the image below.

Phallus rubicundus is native to warmer regions and is widespread outside of North America. It is suspected that the mushroom spread north to the Midwest and Northeast via commercial mulch suppliers. It is associated with parks and gardens, as well as other sites where mulching is common. It is especially conspicuous in New York's Central Park.