14 Gorgeous Mushrooms That Show Fungi's Glamorous Side

credit: Wendell Smith/Flickr

1. Mushrooms are all too often relegated to the realm of dark and funky fungi, when in fact many are worthy of super-swooning. The mushroom has kind of gotten a bad rap. While sweet-smelling flowers fill sunny meadows and are attended to by bees and butterflies, mushrooms inhabit the dark dank corners and are often burdened with sinister connotations. And ok, maybe they thrive on rot ... and can be a bit slimy ... and malodorous ... and really quite lethal, but they have an essential role to play in the environment and many species outshine flowers in terms of odd beauty. So with that in mind, consider this a love letter from the fungus appreciation society, in which we show the gorgeous side of mushrooms.

1. A member of the genus Hericium

Above is a Hericium from the Hericiaceae family. Members of genus grow on dead or dying wood and have some of the most flamboyant fruiting bodies around! Boasting common names such as monkey's head, lion's mane, and bear's head, they look like anything from a fountain of falling icicles to frozen fireworks to sea creatures.

credit: Dan Molter/Mushroom Observer

2. Wrinkled peach (Rhodotus palmatus)

Also known as the netted rhodotus or the rosy veincap (so Victorian!), this gorgeously odd creature is beyond photogenic. But maybe not all the time? As the mushroom expert notes: "When it's being picturesque, Rhodotus palmatus is a stunning and unmistakeable mushroom – or so they tell me. I wouldn't know, since I only find it looking as though it has a droopy, slimy hangover." Awww, poor wrinkled peach.

credit: Tatiana Bulyonkova

3. Amethyst deceiver (Laccaria amethystina)

Ranging in cap size from .3 to 2.5 inches, amethyst deceivers can be found in deciduous as well as coniferous forests. And while the name of this purple beauty sounds like a femme fatale spy from an old intrigue novel, the truth is slightly less sexy – as L. amethystina ages, the signature hue fades, making it hard to identify.

credit: Fran Sheldon / Dan Molter

4. Marasmius capillaris and Marasmius rotula

These two members of Marasmius are often confused for one another, and you can see why. They're both so pretty that we've included them together. So sweet and delicate, and their dandelion-like proportions are a delight. M. rotula, on the right, is a common species in the Northern Hemisphere; it is commonly known as the pinwheel mushroom, the pinwheel marasmius, the little wheel, the collared parachute, or the horse hair fungus.

credit: I. G. Safonov

5. Violet coral (Clavaria zollingeri)

Did some coral take a wrong turn at the tidepool and end up in the forest? Also known as magenta coral, these unusual vibrant tubes grow to a height of almost four inches. C. zollingeri is also known as purple fairy club – of course.

credit: Philippe Chabbert

6. The apricot jelly (Guepinia helvelloides)

One description describes G. helvelloides as such: "The fungus produces salmon-pink, ear-shaped, gelatinous fruit bodies that grow solitarily or in small tufted groups on soil, usually associated with buried rotting wood." But I still think it would look lovely on a cake.

credit: Mike Young

7. Anemone stinkhorn (Aseroe rubra)

Oh, the wonderful stinkhorn family! OK, so yes, they may come with a foul-smelling slime that brings to mind rotting flesh, but that's not their fault. And besides, they come in a variety of wonderfully bizarre shapes, from lattice balls to octopuses to the beautiful variety shown here, which is also commonly known as the sea anemone fungus or starfish fungus. So what if they stink a bit?

credit: Tyrant Farms

8. Indigo milk cap (Lactarius indigo)

Commonly known as the indigo or blue lactarius and the blue milk mushroom, this exquisite fungus produces a thick and startling azure milk when pierced. It's a color not see that often in nature, and even more surprising, in something edible – of which the milk cap most certainly is.

credit: Steve Axford

9. Scarlet bonnet (Mycena adonis)

Because it's just so sweet, M. adonis, AKA the scarlet bonnet, gets a place in the gallery. Found in Asia, Europe, and North America, the little pixie of a mushroom reaches a petite height of only an inch and a half. It takes fondly to conifer woods and peat bogs, and obviously anywhere fairies tend to flit.

credit: Lebrac

10. Split gill (Schizophyllum commune)

While the common name may be a bit mundane, there is nothing boring about S. commune. Those gills! They're worthy of a Ziegfield Follies number. Remarkably, it's said that this is likely one of the most widespread fungus in existence, being found on every continent except Antarctica where there is no wood to be used as a substrate. Seriously, these belong on a hat.

credit: Noah Siegel

12. Bitter oyster (Panellus stipticus)

P. stipticus is commonly known as the bitter oyster, the astringent panus, the luminescent panellus, or the stiptic fungus. But it's got a secret that defies its demure presentation: It is one of several dozen species of fungi that are bioluminescent. It glows in the dark; the firefly of the fungus world. Humans are so boring, why can't we glow? See exhibit A, below.

credit: Ecornerdropshop

13. Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor)

T. versicolor is just classically beautiful – no vibrant hues or crazy limbs or glow-in-the-dark magic tricks, just plain old pretty. As one of the most common mushrooms in North American woods – found just about anywhere there are dead logs and stumps – think of this one as the favorite girl next door.

credit: Steven A. Trudell/USDA

10. Black chanterelle (Polyozellus multiplex)

Although not a true chanterelle P. multiplex is nonetheless a striking mushroom. Ranging in hues from blue to black to deep purple, these distinctive mushrooms can grow in clusters of up to a meter across. The USDA notes that they can be used as a natural dye, but due to their rarity potential harvesters should use restraint and let it remain in the forest.

credit: Steve Axford

14. Marasmius haematocephalus

This species of Marasmius appears to be so rare that there is very little information available to research. But it's just about the prettiest mushroom out there so we couldn't leave it out. Are these even for real?? The answer is yes, and the beautiful photo was taken by Australian photographer Steve Axford, who has made it his life's mission to track down and document some of the world's rarest organisms. You can see more of his photos here, as well as see a video of him talking about the beauties of the Australian rainforest and his work photographing the world's incredible fungi.