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Dead Man’s Fingers Fruiting

10-10-14 dead man's fingers 082When it first appears above ground in the spring, the club/finger-shaped fruit of Dead Man’s Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha) appears powdery white from the asexual spores that cover its surface. As it matures, it acquires a crusty, black surface. This is the sexual stage. The interior of the fruiting body of this fungus is white; just inside the outer surface is a blackened, dotted layer containing structures called perithecia which hold sacs of sexual spores. Dead Man’s Fingers, unlike most fungi (which release their spores in a few hours or days) releases its spores over months or even years. It can have many separate “fingers” and sometimes the fingers are fused, causing it to look somewhat like a hand. Look for this fungus growing on hardwood stumps and logs, particularly American beech and maples.

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7 responses

  1. Kathie Fiveash

    Don’t you love the names of things? And contrariwise, here is a link to a beautiful piece by Ursula LeGuin about names:

    October 10, 2014 at 1:14 pm

  2. dellwvt

    Yes, great name! And interesting info (as always!) How big are these fruiting bodies? I suppose I’ve seen them, but never paid attention to them, so I’m curious about what I’m looking for, as I head out into the woods to notice them.

    October 10, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    • I meant to mention their size, but forgot! Most of the ones I’ve seen are about the size of your baby finger or a bit smaller.

      October 10, 2014 at 4:03 pm

  3. Lianne Moccia

    Hi Mary:

    Here’s a question. Several times over the years when I’m cleaning up perennial flower beds, I uncover a nest that is close to the ground and round. Looks like it might be for mice or voles. Usually I’ve found these at the base of dense daylilies or even Siberian Iris. I should take a photo and send it to you, but thought I’d ask in case you know, right off the bat.


    Lianne Moccia

    October 10, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    • Hi Lianne,
      A picture would be great. My guess is a meadow vole, but size and photo would help! If you have a photo, you can send it to me at Thanks!

      October 10, 2014 at 11:40 pm

  4. Jon Binhammer

    I’ll never forget finding a cluster of dead man’s fingers in a really old, grown-over cemetery in West Haven with a group of folks who were helping clean out the brush. It was creepy, but it made our day!

    October 14, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    • Fantastic find, and such an appropriate spot!

      October 14, 2014 at 5:01 pm

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