14 Bizarre and Beautiful Mushrooms

Fungi date back at least half a billion years or so, and a few fungus-like fossils seem to be even more ancient. Their domain has diversified in some incredible ways during its long history, and while the fungal diversity around us is often hidden from our view, many fungi still seize the spotlight by producing elaborate or unusual mushrooms.

Here are just a few of most spectacular mushrooms on Earth today.

1
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Entoloma hochstetteri

Photo: Tom [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

Found in New Zealand and India, this tiny mushroom is easily recognized by its vivid blue color, which comes from three azulene pigments. It's unknown whether or not it is edible, but New Zealand celebrates it on stamps and the back of a $50 bank note.

2
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Clathrus archeri

AleksandarMilutinovic/Shutterstock.

Known as the octopus stinkhorn, this odd mushroom is native to Australia and Tasmania. The slender pinkish arms, usually four to seven in number, erupt from an egg-like structure. When they unfurl, they are covered with small masses of spores called gleba. Though it looks neat, you don't want to be near it when it matures -- it smells of rotting flesh.

3
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Lycoperdon echinatum

H. Krisp/Wikipedia.

The spiny puffball or spring puffball is one of the many mushrooms that fall under the puffball umbrella. Found in Africa, Europe and Central and North America, the tiny mushrooms (about an inch in diameter) are covered in little spines. This species is edible when it is young, when it is white and firm. Lab tests have shown that it can stop the the growth of several types of disease-causing bacteria.

4
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Mutinus caninus

Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock.

The dog stinkhorn mushroom earned its name because of its shape, which some say resembles a dog's phallus. Indeed, the French names for it are Phallus de Chien and Satyre des chiens. It is common in Europe, Asia and eastern North America, and can be found through late summer and autumn in leaf litter and wood debris.

5
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Trametes versicolor

tomasz przechlewski/Flickr CC.

This species is a type of shelf mushroom found all over the world. Its multi-colored patterns are easily recognizable, and are reminiscent of a wild turkey's tail feathers, hence its common name of turkey tail mushroom. Colors can range depending on location and age, and the cap can be shades of rust-brown, dark brown, grey, and even black. It is considered medicinal, and may have benefits in protecting against cancer, though this is a subject of debate.

6
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Hydnellum peckii

Bernypisa/Wikipedia.

This odd mushroom found in North America and Europe goes by many names, including strawberries and cream, the bleeding tooth fungus, the red-juice tooth, and the Devil's tooth. Younger specimens bleed a bright red juice that has anticoagulant properties. Though they aren't toxic, their extremely bitter taste makes them inedible. The species grows under pine trees in forests.

7
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Gyromitra esculenta

Kletr/Shutterstock.

One of several species of false morel, this species is commonly called the brain mushroom or turban fungus. It is considered a delicacy in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and in the Great Lakes region of the U.S. — but only if prepared correctly. It is potentially fatal if eaten raw, so those planning to eat it need to be particularly careful to remove the poisonous gyromitrin, usually accomplished by boiling the chopped-up mushrooms several times.

8
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Phallus indusiatus

Vilainecrevette/Shutterstock.

The delicate veiled lady mushroom is found in gardens and woodlands in southern Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australia. Though the lacy skirt is what draws our eyes, the cap is coated in a greenish-brown spore-containing slime that attracts insects, which then help disperse the spores. It is edible and healthful, and is sometimes used in Chinese cuisine.

9
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Mycena chlorophos

GFDL/Wikipedia.

This bioluminescent mushroom is found in subtropical Asia, Australia, and Brazil. The caps and stems emit a glowing green light in the dark. They glow brightest when they are about a day old and the surrounding temperature is about 81 degrees Fahrenheit. After the first day of the cap opening, the glow dulls until it is undetectable to the naked eye.

10
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Laccaria amethystina

Tatiana Bulyonkova/Flickr CC.

The amethyst deceiver is a purple beauty found in forests in North America, Central and South America, Europe, and Asia. It is vividly purple when young, but loses the bright color as it ages, making it more difficult to identify and thus is a "deceiver." Though it is edible, it isn't a good choice to eat because pollutants in the soil, such as arsenic, can bioaccumulate in the mushroom.

11
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Hericium erinaceus

Lebrac/Wikipedia.

This strange mushroom goes by many names, including lion's mane mushroom, bearded tooth mushroom, hedgehog mushroom, and satyr's beard among many others. Native to North America, it can be found growing on hardwood trees. Despite its strange looks, it is indeed edible and is sometimes served as an alternative to pork or lamb in Chinese cuisine. The mushroom is common during late summer and fall on hardwood trees.

12
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Chorioactis geaster

Tim Jones/Wikipedia.

An extremely rare mushroom, the devil's cigar is found only in select locations in Texas and Japan. In Texas, the fruiting body grows on the roots of dead cedar elms, while in Japan it grows on dead oak trees. It isn't known why it is only found in these two distant locations. Like the octopus stinkhorn mentioned earlier, this mushroom emerges and splits into four to seven arms, which have spore-bearing tissue.

13
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Lactarius indigo

Dan Molter/Wikipedia.

The indigo milkcap is found in the coniferous and deciduous forests of eastern North America, East Asia, and Central America. When the mushroom is cut or broken open, the milk, or latex, that oozes out is a beautiful indigo blue which slowly turns green as it is exposed to air. Though it looks quite poisonous, it is reportedly edible and is sold in markets in China, Guatemala, and Mexico.

14
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Clathrus crispus

David Gough (Spacepleb)/Wikipedia.

This mushroom is known as the latticed stinkhorn, the basket stinkhorn, or the red cage. It is found growing in leaf litter, on garden soil, grassy places, or in mulches. Though it isn't clear if it is edible, apparently its smell is enough to deter anyone interested in eating it. It puts off a scent similar to rotting meat to attract insects, which help disperse its spores.