Devils Fingers Clathrus archeri

Scientific Name: Clathrus archeri. Syn. Anthurus archeri. (Phallaceae). Clathrus='cage'; archeri is a reference to 19th century Tasmanian architect and naturalist William Archer, after whom the species is named.

English Name: Devil's Fingers (Stinkhorn family).

French Name: Anthrus d'Archer (='Archer's Anthrus').

5 Key Characters:
  • very noticeable, with striking appearance and strong unpleasant smell of rotting meat (you might smell it before you see it).
  • begins as a partially buried 2 - 3 cm diameter 'egg'. 
  • 4 - 8 red smelly 'arms' emerge from the 'egg'.
  • mature fungus 20 cm across, looks like a starfish or an octopus.
  • no stem.

Lookalikes: Devil's Fingers are very distinctive and easy to identify, but occasionally beginners might confuse it with the following species. Red Cage Clathrus ruber, also not native, which forms an ovoid orange 'cage' or lattice when mature. Starfish fungus Aseroƫ rubra, also from Australia, but much rarer and with bifurcated arms and a stem.

Habitat: Leaf litter and wood chip or bark mulch in broadleaf forests, gardens and parks. Occasionally in pine plantations or damp grassland.

Fruiting Period: June-July-August-September-October-November. Spores are distributed by insects attracted to the stinky substance on the arms.

Status: Not native. It initially arrived in France in the 19th century as spores on wool fleece that was imported to the port of Bordeaux from Australia or New Zealand. The wool was destined for mills in the Vosges mountains, where the fungus also appeared. Later it arrived from Australia or New Zealand with ANZAC troops in 1914, either on their horses or horse fodder, or on the boots of the soldiers themselves. It is now well established in the Touraine Loire Valley and quite common.

Edible or Toxic? It may or may not be toxic. There are no records of anyone eating this species. One whiff should be enough to put you off. The general advice is treat with caution.

Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:

Two immature specimens that are still at the 'egg' stage. They have been cut open to reveal the red 'octopus arms' encased in a jelly like substance within. These will burst through the skin of the 'egg' when the fungus is mature.

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