13 Bizarre Mushrooms

illustration with bizarre mushroom species, scissors, and gloves
The indigo milk cap, lion's mane, and veiled lady are some of the world's most bizarre mushrooms.

Caitlin Rogers / Treehugger

With about 14,000 described mushrooms currently inhabiting dank forest floors, decaying tree trunks, and dung piles, there are bound to be some strange-looking varieties. Some depart entirely from the toadstool silhouette—the stereotypical rounded-cap-atop-a-stem set—with lengthy hairlike spines, fanning shell shapes, flower-esque pedals, and lattice designs. Others that lack uniqueness in shape are fantastic in their royal blue, indigo, and even bioluminescent colors. Many of the most bizarre mushrooms on the planet are extremely elusive. Some are poisonous, some not.

From a "bleeding" tooth mushroom to one that appears to wear a veil, here are 13 of the weirdest, rarest, and most beautiful mushrooms in the world.

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Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus)

Lion's mane mushroom growing on tree in Dutch forest
wavipicture / Getty Images

This mushroom goes by many names—lion's mane, bearded tooth, hedgehog, bearded hedgehog, Satyr's beard, or pom pom mushroom—and is known for its strange, stringy appearance. The "strings" are actually spines that grow from a single point on the mushroom and cascade down like the yarn of a mop head. Lion's mane mushrooms are usually white in color and round in shape. They're technically tooth fungi that can be found on hardwood trees throughout North America, Asia, and Europe. Despite their peculiar looks, these mushrooms are edible.

What Is Tooth Fungus?

Tooth fungus, scientifically known as hydnoid fungus, is a group of fungus whose fruit body produces spinelike, downward-hanging projections that contain spores. Tooth fungi belong to the genera Hydnum.

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Puffball (Basidiomycota)

White, spike-covered puffball mushroom in wet leaves
Andrea Edwards / EyeEm / Getty Images

There are quite a few varieties of puffball mushroom, all belonging to the division Basidiomycota and having their own unique characteristics. A quirky trait they all share is that they do not grow an open cap with spore-bearing gills; instead, the spores are grown internally and the mushroom develops an aperture or splits open to release the spores. Besides their general appearance—similar to a plain old white button mushroom, but often much larger and sometimes covered in hairlike spines—they're called puffballs because clouds of spores "puff" out when they burst open or are hit with, say, falling raindrops.

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Indigo Milk Cap (Lactarius indigo)

Close-up of the blue-tinted underside of an indigo milk cap
Jane McBride / Getty Images

This bluish-purple beauty oozes an indigo-colored "milk," aka latex, when the mushroom is cut or broken open. It shares its tendency to ooze or "bleed" with all mushrooms in the genus Lactarius. The indigo milk cap can be found in the coniferous and deciduous forests of eastern North America, East Asia, and Central America. The bluer the body, the fresher the specimen. And though it looks quite poisonous, it is reportedly edible and is sold in some markets.

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Latticed Stinkhorn (Clathrus ruber)

Close-up of a red latticed stinkhorn mushroom growing from ground
claudiodelfuoco / Getty Images

The latticed stinkhorn, or basket stinkhorn, is called so because of its spongelike exterior, resembling a red cage. Its appearance is only half of what makes the mushroom exceedingly strange, though: It also has a foul smell, hence the "stink" in its name. These redheaded mushrooms can be found growing in leaf litter, on grassy places, on garden soil, or in mulches in hot places, such as the Mediterranean and coastal North America.

Though their odor deters most people from eating latticed stinkhorns, these mushrooms are edible—but only when they're in egg form. This early stage of life predates their stinking phase.

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Bleeding Tooth (Hydnellum peckii)

Bleeding tooth mushroom with funnel-shaped cap and red guttation droplets
Julija Kumpinovica / Getty Images

Depending on how you look at it, the bleeding tooth mushroom can appear quite eerie or, on the contrary, tasty. As a juvenile, it's easily identifiable because it oozes bright-red, bloodlike juice (technically xylem sap droplets) from pores in its white cap. But this ability to "bleed" dissipates as it gets older; with time, it becomes an average-looking, grayish-brown mushroom.

The bleeding tooth can found in North America, Europe, Iran, and Korea. The juveniles' juices are believed to have anticoagulant (blood-thinning) properties. Though they don't seem to be poisonous, they have an extremely bitter taste and are rather unpleasant to eat.

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Amethyst Deceiver (Laccaria amethystina)

Purple mushrooms growing on forest floor

ressaure / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Its vivid purple hue makes the amethyst deceiver decidedly strange. Like the bleeding tooth, these colorful anomalies lose their defining quality with age. As they grow older, they fade in color and wither—hence the name "deceiver"—but they're splendidly bright and easy to spot in the deciduous and coniferous forests of temperate zones in North America, Central and South America, Europe, and Asia when they're fresh.

Though technically edible, eating the amethyst deceiver isn't recommended because pollutants in the soil, such as arsenic, can bioaccumulate in the mushroom.

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Veiled Lady (Phallus indusiatus)

Phallus Indusiatus growing on wet forest floor
Herianus Herianus / EyeEm / Getty Images

While the dramatic lacy skirt of the veiled lady mushroom is what initially attracts the eye, this sophisticated fungus actually uses its cap to draw attention, too. It is coated in a greenish-brown slime that contains spores—and that same slime attracts flies and insects that help disperse the spores. The delicate Phallus indusiatus can be found in gardens and woodlands in southern Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australia. It is edible—and, in fact, rather healthful—and sometimes used in Chinese cuisine.

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Bioluminescent Fungus (Mycena chlorophos)

Two bioluminescent mushrooms glowing green in the dark
ICHIRO / Getty Images

This mushroom's party trick is that it can glow in the dark. It emits its brightest green light when the surrounding temperature is precisely 81 degrees, and for about a day after the cap forms and opens. After that, the glow dulls until it is (sadly) undetectable by the naked eye. Naturally, the aptly named bioluminescent fungus prefers tropical and subtropical climates, such as in Asia and the Pacific, where it can glow candidly. The ecological significance of fungal bioluminescence remains a popular topic of study today.

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Dog Stinkhorn (Mutinus caninus)

Columnal dog stinkhorn mushroom growing in patch of grass

Nick Harris1 / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

The dog stinkhorn starts as an egglike fruiting body hidden in leaf litter in soils, and when the egg splits, the mushroom becomes a strange-looking brown-tipped rod, yellow to pink in color. The mushroom expands to its full height within just a few hours. The tip of the columnal fungus is covered in a smelly spore-bearing slime that attracts insects, which help to disperse the spores. Dog stinkhorns are found in Europe, Asia, and eastern North America.

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Blue Pinkgill (Entoloma hochstetteri)

Bright blue mushroom on mossy ground

little.tomato / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Like something out of a fairytale, the Entoloma hochstetteri is royal blue, courtesy of a trifecta of azulene pigments, and has a cone-shaped head. It almost appears fake amid leaf litter in its native New Zealand—where the indigenous Māori originally named it werewere-kokako after the kōkako bird—and India. In 2002, the blue mushroom was included in a set of fungal stamps issued in New Zealand. It also featured on the back of New Zealand's $50 bank note. The only downside to this dainty, otherworldly mushroom is that it could be poisonous.

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Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Abundance of green-tinted turkey tail mushrooms growing on log
Scott T. Smith / Getty Images

Named after the fanning derriere of a certain famous North American ground bird, the turkey tail is even more ornamental than its namesake. Its colors—sometimes rust-brown, grey, or black—vary based on its age and location. Occasionally, you'll even encounter ones with beautiful green featured within their copper-tinted rings, creating a rainbow of color on clam shell-shaped mushrooms. The turkey tail is considered a medicinal mushroom, and may possibly have positive benefits in protecting against cancer, though this is debated.

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Devil's Cigar (Chorioactis geaster)

Two devil's cigar mushrooms growing together on forest floor

Mason Lalley (Tootybooty)/Mushroom Observer / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The devil's cigar is an extremely rare mushroom, found only in very select locations in Texas and Japan. Scientists do not yet understand why the fungus has this disjunct distribution. In 1939, mycologist Fred Jay Seaver wrote, "It would be difficult indeed to account for it, and we merely accept the facts as they are." It's not a normal-looking mushroom, either. Instead of the traditional stem-and-cap fungi format, devil's cigar looks more like a pedaled flower or a star (in fact, another nickname is the Texas star).

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Brain Mushroom (Gyromitra esculenta)

Raisinlike brain mushrooms growing on forest floor
Staffan Widstrand / Getty Images

Also called a false morel, brain mushrooms grow caps that resemble the shape of a brain and its sulci. Likely unrelated to its name, you also have to use your brain to resist eating it, as it can be potentially fatal if consumed raw. Prepared correctly, though, the brain mushroom is considered a delicacy in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and even in the Great Lakes region of the U.S. Though it is sold fresh in some markets, it is required to come with warning labels. When in doubt, just stick with real morels and leave this lookalike alone.

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