Texas is known for its nickname, “The Lone Star State,” but it also has a unique species of fungi that serves as a perfect state mascot. The Texas Star Mushroom (Chorioactis geaster), also known as the Devil’s Cigar, is one of the rarest mushrooms in the world and the official state mushroom of Texas.
In a recent Facebook post, Texas Parks and Wildlife officials reported a sighting of this rare mushroom in Inks Lake State Park, about seventy miles from Austin. The discovery of the state fungus is an exciting event for both Texans and mycologists alike.
The Texas Star Mushroom is so rare that it’s only really found in some central and northern parts of Texas. Apart from Texas, there has only been a sighting in nearby Oklahoma and, shockingly, in the southern Kyushu mountains of Japan. According to park officials, “The distribution of the “Texas Star” tends to puzzle scientists” because of how particular it is with where it will grow. Despite its dramatic explosion of spores, the fungus remains mostly confined to Texas – a mystery that still remains unsolved by researchers today.
Though much about this mysterious fungus remains unknown, we do know that the Texas Star mushroom starts off as an enclosed pod that looks strikingly similar to a real cigar. However, once it rains, the dark brown, fuzzy capsule splits open to reveal its iconic star shape.
The mushroom makes a rather dramatic performance when it bursts open. Not only is it unique in its visual appearance, but also from an audible standpoint. If you ever come across the Texas Star, you may be surprised beyond its rarity and appearance when you hear the unnerving sound it produces. As officials note in the Facebook post, “It is said that when the devil’s cigar unfurls, it releases a strange hissing noise and hazy cloud of spores.”
Though it is still unclear exactly why the mushroom behaves in such a manner, it definitely isn’t shy about making a scene. Amateur scientist Forrest Mims believes that it could be “Because they’re under such high pressure, the spores are released like bullets.” The sound is likely from the intensity of the fungi’s explosion. Nonetheless, it’s still pretty creepy to hear if you come across it.
The Texas Star is typically found during late fall, yet it is very selective about the conditions in which it grows in. Its specific nature is likely part of what makes it so rare. They primarily grow around oaks or decaying cedar elm stumps and roots, meaning they can only be found in forests with those specific kinds of tree.
The inside of the mushroom contains the hymenium, a layer of tissue that produces the trillions of spores that explode when it comes into contact with water. When completely open, the Texas Star can have up to six points and is around three to four inches long. The color can range from a creamy white to a rusty brown, depending on the age of the fungi.
The Central Texas Mycological Society worked hard to make the Texas Star Mushroom the state fungus of Texas - only two other states, Minnesota and Oregon, had done the same before. On July 22, 2021, their efforts were rewarded when the Texas State Legislature announced that this unique species would become the state’s official mushroom.
It is easy to see why they chose it: Its star-shaped characteristics and native habitat make it stand out from other mushrooms found in the Lone Star State. In the future, perhaps more states will follow in their footsteps and declare their own official mushroom as local mycologists discover and study new species in their area.
While much about this mysterious fungus remains to be learned, there’s no doubt that it has made a significant impression on those who have encountered it! Though this isn’t the first sighting of the Texas Star, the occasional discovery of the incredibly rare fungus is definitely something worth celebrating about.