Stinkhorn fungi have been appearing in yards and fields recently. These curious-looking mushrooms do not cause disease problems. They simply live on dead organic matter, such as wood chips and crop debris.
A stinkhorn begins life as an egg-like object in the soil, about the size of a golf ball. As the fungus develops, a stalk appears topped with a slimy cap coated with a mass of olive-green to brown spores. There are several common stinkhorn fungi found in Iowa, and they range from about 4 to 8 inches in height.
Stinkhorns are appropriately named because they have a foul odor. The odor attracts insects that crawl over the stinkhorn, get covered in spores, and then fly away, which disperses the fungus. Stinkhorns are not poisonous, but are classified as inedible. Their stinky aroma alone would keep most people at a distance.
If you would like to learn more about common mushrooms in Iowa, pick up a copy of the bulletin Mushrooms and Other Related Fungi, available for $1.50 from Iowa State University Extension. Ask for NCR 129.