Yes, you are correct – it does look phallic. No, the tone of this column has not deteriorated that far.
What you see is a rare fungus, a specimen of which was found in Noreen and Tim’s garden in Hazelton. Typically found growing on mulch or dead organic matter such as decomposing wood, this fungus is called a dog stinkhorn (Mutinus for ‘penis’ and caninus for ‘dog’). It is a rare finding in B.C., although one was found several years ago in a Smithers garden.
As its common name suggests, it stinks when it is mature. The greenish-brownish, slimy stuff near the top of the pinkish-orange stalk is the stinky part. It is called the gleba and contains the fungal spores.
Its obnoxious smell is likened to rotting flesh or predator feces, but is very attractive to blowflies, some beetles and even slugs. They either consume the gleba, or it sticks to their bodies, and they transport and spread the fungal spores.
The phallic fruiting stalk starts out inside a buried, or partly buried, rounded “egg” covered in white or pinkish skin. The skin surrounds an inner, jelly-like layer (green goo) in which the immature fruiting stalk is lying. This egg stage is reported to be edible, somewhat crunchy like water chestnuts and tastes like mild radishes. They can be eaten raw, put in salads, stews, and noodle soups. I think I will admire them from afar.
The egg stage is also considered by some to be an aphrodisiac.
It is important to know what eggs you are harvesting because the deadly poisonous death cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides) produces similar eggs.
The related common stinkhorn or witch’s eggs (Phallus impudicus for ‘shameless’) is even more stinky. Charles Darwin’s daughter would dress herself in hunting gear and head off hunting them by their smell. Then she would destroy them “because of the morals of the maids.”
If you find them on your property and cannot stand the smell, it is best to collect them at the egg stage in a plastic bag and put it in the garbage. However, they are important decomposers and are good for the garden soil.
The common stinkhorn readily breaks through pavement. For trivia buffs, a 2004 mathematical study calculated that three common stinkhorns growing out of hard asphalt produce enough force to lift approximately 400 kilograms. They are powerful.
Check out “Mushrooms of BC” by MacKinnon and Luther. Published 2021 by the Royal BC Museum.