Bizarre lawn find stinking of 'decaying flesh' stumps Aussies

The strange-looking discovery comes as experts warn against foraging for fungi in general, amid an uptick in poisonous encounters.

An Anthurus archeri – the Octopus Stinkhorn - is pictured on the left, while an anemone stinkhorn fungi is pictured on the right.
Amid an uptick in public interest in fungi, Aussies are taking to social media to question their strange-looking backyard discoveries. Source: Facebook

A foul-smelling, flesh-like fungi that resembles something from a science-fiction film has left intrigued Aussies everywhere scratching their heads. The fascinating find comes as mycologists around the country warn against foraging for wild mushrooms in general, amid an uptick in poisonous encounters.

Fungi, namely mushrooms, have attracted intense media coverage in recent months after the now-infamous Leongatha family lunch in which Erin Patterson allegedly served a poisoned beef wellington to her guests, killing three. Months later, another Victoria mother, Rachel Dixon, died after a suffering a cardiac arrest from what authorities believe stemmed from consuming a mushroom tea.

These two events, in addition to a string of other less serious incidents, have seen mushroom sales plummet and public interest in wild fungi soar through the roof — particularly on social media.

This week, one confused Sydneysider shared images online of what people described as a character out of the Netflix sci-fi series Stranger Things. "Can anyone identify this? It was growing on my lawn," the woman wrote. People quickly pointed out its similarity to the creatures in the show, with some saying it appeared "alien-like".

The anemone stinkhorn growing in the Sydneysider's yard.
The anemone stinkhorn - which a Sydneysider found growing in her yard - produces a stench similar to decaying flesh. Source: Facebook

"This proves that I've watched way too much Stranger Things," a woman joked in response. "It's an alien invasion — run," another said.

Others who had also come across the fungi warned responders not to get too close.

Elsewhere, another Australian man also questioned the "hectic" fungi he found in his yard. This one shares many similarities with the first, with people again linking the curious-looking growth to the hit TV series.

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Professor Brett Summerell, chief scientist at Sydney's Royal Botanical Gardens, identified both growths as variants of the stinkhorn. He also explained why they reek of "decaying flesh".

"The first one is an anemone stinkhorn [and] is found from southern Queensland to Tasmania, but since has been spread around Europe and north America," he told Yahoo.

"The other is anthurus archeri — the octopus stinkhorn. Both produce the brown stinky substance on the 'tentacles' to attract flies and other carrion attracting insects — hence the smell of decayed flesh.

"They are relatively common at this time of year, as the weather cools and [they] like woody mulch as a substrate for growth. Neither are harmful to people or pets and they decay away pretty quickly."

An Anthurus archeri – the Octopus Stinkhorn - is pictured.
Anthurus archeri, the Octopus Stinkhorn, also produces a foul stench that's intended to replicate rotting meat in a bit to attract insects. Source: Facebook

Tom May, Principal Research Scientist at Victoria's Royal Botanical Gardens, also weighed in.

"The spore mass is attractive to flies, which feed on the spores, helping to disperse them. Often the sporing bodies are bizarrely shaped and colourful, presumably in imitation of rotting meat, which with the stinking odour, would be attractive to the flies," he told Yahoo.

"For humans, the smell means that it is unlikely that they would be consumed."

Meanwhile, the Food Safety Information Council recently issued a statement to Aussies warning those who want to partake in wild mushroom foraging to be "extremely careful" if they want to avoid "deadly" consequences.

Social media influencers who forage for wild food have encouraged a spike in recreational mushroom gathering across Australia, but Food Safety Information Council chair Cathy Moir emphasised the "life-threatening" risks involved.

"We are particularly concerned about this growing online promotion of mushroom foraging with some wild mushroom social media groups having over 40,000 members seeking to have their photos of mushrooms identified by fellow foragers," she said.

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