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Dead Man’s Fingers

7-27-16 dead man's fingers IMG_6258

When it first appears above ground in the spring, the club or finger-shaped fruit of Dead Man’s Fingers (Xylaria polymorphaappears 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 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, sometimes fused together to resemble a hand.  Look for this fungus growing on hardwood stumps and logs, particularly American beech and maples.

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8 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    Very interesting but bizarre fungi. There are numerous bizarre ones.

    August 3, 2016 at 8:21 am

  2. Yech!

    August 3, 2016 at 9:41 am

  3. shielaswett

    Oh, Mary, where can I find one of these? Is it actually a mushroom? I don’t think I’ve ever spotted one! Once again, you are opening my eyes :-)) cheers, Shiela

    >

    August 3, 2016 at 10:16 am

  4. Rita Pitkin

    Not that I want to, but is this thing edible?

    August 3, 2016 at 11:24 am

    • Hi Rita,
      I have read accounts of people eating them (raw) when they are young but I have no firsthand knowledge about their edibility!

      August 3, 2016 at 3:51 pm

  5. Hi Mary.. I enjoy all your posts. I wonder if you can tell me what this is. It is a perfectly formed ball about 4 inches in diameter… made of little pieces of grass, bits of moss and i think hemlock needles. It was found, with others, floating in a pond near where a stream enters. I cut into it and it has the same structure throughout. Any clue as to what it might be? Penny Hommeyer

    On Wed, Aug 3, 2016 at 7:40 AM, Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: ” When it first appears above ground in the spring, > the club or 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 i” >

    August 3, 2016 at 7:37 pm

  6. Penny, WordPress doesn’t allow your photo to be posted, unfortunately. Could you send it to me at mholland@vermontel.net? Thanks so much. Sounds intriguing!

    August 3, 2016 at 10:37 pm

  7. Jon Binhammmer

    I saw a hand-shaped dead man’s fingers fungus in an old revolutionary war era cemetery one time with a group of volunteer stewards – it made quite an impression on them, as you can imagine!!

    August 5, 2016 at 11:07 am

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