To many people, the word “mushroom” brings to mind those grocery store button mushrooms or perhaps a bright red toadstool surrounded by lovely green moss in a lush forest. And while we adore this iconic cottagecore mushroom look, there’s something to be said about the weirdos of the mushroom world.
There is no shortage of odd appearances in fungi, ranging from strange shapes, to funky smells, to mushroom caps that appear to be oozing blood. For all of our mycologists and mushroom newbies who are equally fascinated by the diversity of bizarre fungi, we’ve gathered a list of twelve super unique species of mushrooms to satisfy your curiosity.
Scientific name:*Clathrus archeri*
Also known as: The starfish mushroom, devil’s fingers
Distribution: Australia, New Zealand, UK (very rare)
The Octopus Stinkhorn looks like something straight out of a scary movie, with its long bright red tentacles. These limbs grow out of gelatinous “eggs” and seem to be covered in a brown gooey slime. Perhaps, worst of all, is the stench it gives off. It is commonly described as smelling like “rotting flesh,” which helps it attract flies to spread its spores.
Scientific name: Amanita phalloides
Distribution: Europe, North Africa, North America
The Death Cap Mushroom is the king of all poisonous mushrooms and is considered the deadliest mushroom on Earth. Although its appearance seems rather harmless, consuming a small amount of this mushroom can lead to fatal consequences (even if cooked!). This cute but deadly fungus is yet another reminder to make sure that you accurately identify any mushroom species you forage before eating them.
Scientific name: Phallus indusiatus
Also known as: Bamboo mushroom, bridal veil mushroom
Distribution: Tropical environments like the Amazon, Japan, and Central America
The Veiled Lady mushroom has one of the most unique and interesting shapes. It has a domed brown cap surrounded by delicate white netting that many describe as looking like a veil or petticoat. Even with this dainty appearance, the veiled lady also gives off a smell of rotting flesh and garlic to attract spore-spreading flies since it is a member of the stinkhorn family.
Scientific name: Hericium erinaceus
Distribution: North America, Europe, Asia
The Lion’s Mane is a functional edible mushroom commonly used in supplements and mushroom tinctures to help support brain function and even treat Alzheimer’s. It has no cap or stem but rather long, hanging stalagmite-like needles. From a distance, it almost looks like Santa’s beard or a frozen waterfall. This mushroom grows on dead parts of trees, using its strange shape to drop down its spores from up above.
Scientific name: Hydnellum peckii
Also known as: Devil’s mushroom
Distribution: North America, Europe, Iran, Korea
The bleeding tooth mushroom might be the most disturbing out of all the mushrooms on this list. It has a lumpy white cap that looks like a brain and oozes bright red sap, a process known as guttation. The sap typically occurs when the soil is moist because it is the mushroom’s way of excreting too much liquid. Its red color is due to pigments found in the mushroom. If that wasn’t creepy enough, the mushroom also has tiny “teeth” on the underside of its cap, giving this mushroom one of the most nightmarish appearances in all of the fungi kingdom.
Scientific name: Lactarius indigo
Also known as: Indigo milky, Blue milk mushroom
Distribution: North America, East Asia, Central America
The indigo milkcap is not only gorgeous but also edible and quite tasty. They are enjoyed in many cuisines throughout the world due to their mild, nutty flavor. The mushroom’s cap is muted in color, but its gills underneath are a deep royal blue. When the mushroom tissue is cut open, it oozes out a brilliant indigo-blue liquid that gradually turns green when exposed to air.
Scientific name: Clathrus ruber
Also known as: Red cage, Craypot stinkhorn
Distribution: primarily in Europe, but widely distributed across all continents
The basket stinkhorn truly lives up to its name – not just because of its basket-shaped structure but also its foul odor. The color of the mushroom can vary depending on the type of organic matter it feeds on. It can be bright red, orange, pink, or white. Before it blooms into its iconic basket form, the fungus appears as a white bulb on the ground, looking almost like an egg. As the basket stinkhorn develops, it splits open, creating holes that allow flies to buzz on in and spread its spores to other areas.
Scientific name: Rhodotus palmatus
Distribution: Eastern North America, Northern Africa, Europe, and Asia
This rare, beautiful mushroom has a stunning color with wrinkles on the surface of its cap. It can range from bright pink to orange in hue and emits a bright red liquid during guttation in order to excrete excess water from its system. The wrinkled peach is considered an endangered mushroom species due to the depletion of elm and ashwood forests.
Scientific name: Omphalotus nidiformis
Distribution: Primarily southern Australia and Tasmania, though a few reports in India
The ghost mushroom has bioluminescent properties that allow it to emit its own light source. This phenomenon results from a substance called luciferin, which reacts with oxygen to create a green glow. The mushroom has inspired various folk beliefs. For instance, Aboriginal Australians viewed glowing fungus as evil spirits, whereas California miners believed that the mushrooms indicated the places where other miners had passed away.
Scientific name: Cyathus novaezelandiae
Distribution: Found on every continent, as it’s widely distributed
The bird’s nest fungus truly resembles a miniature nest with eggs inside. This stemless mushroom begins its life cycle with a closed covering that gradually opens up as it matures, revealing its small “eggs,” which are actually masses of spores called peridioles. Each peridiole can contain as many as thirty million spores. When the fungus comes into contact with raindrops, the peridioles are expelled from the cup and stick to other surfaces, such as blades of grass or other plants, to spread their spores.
Scientific name: Battarrea phalloides
Also known as: desert stalked puffball, scaly-stalked puffball
Distribution: Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, western North America, and South America
Like many other mushrooms in the puffball family, the sandy stiltball starts out as a smooth white bulb. However, as it develops, it can grow up to two feet tall! Although it grows like a typical gilled mushroom, the sandy stiltball actually produces its spores on the top of its spore sac cap. The rust-colored spore dust indeed resembles sand. In fact, the spores are so dusty that they usually cover the surrounding area, hence the “sandy” name.
Scientific name: Geastrum saccatum
Also known as: The devil’s mushroom
Distribution: Primarily North America and Europe, but found worldwide
Upon first glance, you may think that the rounded earthstar is a strange flower or some sort of alien egg sac, but it’s actually just a super interesting-looking fungus. The mushroom begins as a round bulb and eventually peels open to reveal its iconic star shape. In the center lies a rounded spore sac that explodes with spores when it comes in contact with falling water droplets.
This list rounds up some of our top picks for the most peculiar, stunning, and mind-blowing mushroom species out there. However, this selection should not limit your exploration of all the diverse mushroom species that exist. Even though scientists have already identified thousands of species, they’ve only discovered a percentage of the magnificent wonders the fungi kingdom has to offer. We hope this list has piqued your curiosity about the wonderfully diverse nature of the mushroom world.