Most people barely think about mushrooms at all outside of pizza toppings, and when they do, they associate fungus with grossness. Many mushrooms are, indeed, gross, but many more are actually fascinating. Whether beautiful or uniquely grotesque, the mushrooms on this list will definitely whet your curiosity, if not your appetite.
This is a widespread fungus, known for its totally bizarre appearance. It’s found most commonly in North America and Europe, but is also occasionally identified in Iran and Korea. When they’re young, they exude droplets of a red, anticoagulant juice that looks like blood. While the “blood” actually looks kind of tasty, the mushroom is disgustingly bitter.
This amazingly purple mushroom grows in both North and Central America, as well as certain spots in Europe and Asia. The “deceiver” part of their name comes from the fact that they lose most of their coloration as they grow, and the mature fruit bodies (the mycological term for the part of mushrooms that are above ground) are hard to identify.
The Lion’s Mane mushroom, unsurprisingly, has a number of colorful nicknames. The best of them are “Satyr’s Beard” and “Bearded Hedgehog Mushroom.” It grows on hardwood tree trunks in North America and is sought out as an edible mushroom.
This mushroom was placed on New Zealand’s $50 note in 1990, and it’s not hard to see why. Its piercingly, uniformly blue fruit body makes it look Photoshopped. But believe it or not, that’s its real color. It grows in New Zealand and India.
Mushrooms come in a wide variety of shapes, and there are a huge number that don’t conform to the familiar “stem and cap” orientation we’re used to. Puffballs are a large family of mushroom that do not have stems or gills, instead releasing their spores by expelling them through an opening in their bodies, or simply exploding. They range from teeny-tiny to the size of beach balls, like the ones pictured above.
The Veiled Lady is a kind of stinkhorn, mushrooms that exude an odorous spore slime from their caps that attracts insects. The Lady is much more attractive than her kin, with a flowing white dress (called an “indusium”) that reaches almost to the ground. It’s found in the Americas, Asia, Australia and Africa.
This mushroom is named the “dog stinkhorn” because it looks like a dog’s penis. Yep. True story.
Mysteriously, this mushroom is only found in Texas and Japan, and mycologists aren’t totally sure why. In Japan, they grow on dead oak trees, and in Texas, they can be found on dead cedar elms’ roots. Before “blossoming,” they look a bit like cigars. And in full bloom, they look like strange, beautiful flowers.
If you were tromping through a forest, a bright blue mushroom would probably be at the top of your list of things not to eat. But strangely, the indigo milkcap is edible. When its flesh is damaged, it exudes a “milk” that’s also blue. It’s found in North and Central America, and also in Asia.
This may look like the desktop background of a guy who does Dreamweaver tutorials on YouTube, but it’s actually a real mushroom. It’s found in subtropical regions from Brazil to Japan, and are very bioluminescent. They glow for about a day after their caps open, so if you want to see one, you’ll have to time it just right.
Another stinkhorn, this one might be the strangest. It forms a latticework red ball that looks like a prop from Star Trek. It grows mostly in leaf litter and mulch, so keep an eye out in your garden. Though they’d be hard to miss.