Ahh, fungi…we see these strange little figures that pop out of the ground, grow on trees, or show up on rotting logs in the forest - but, just from looking at these organisms, you would never know what lies beneath the surface and the potentially amazing health benefits they may have.
From edible mushrooms like shiitake and maitake, to psychedelic (magic) mushrooms like psilocybin, Eastern cultures have used mushrooms for centuries to treat various health needs, open and free the mind, and, most simply, add to daily meals for a nutritious and delicious boost. Edible and psychedelic mushroom species account for about 20% of all mushrooms, leaving 80% inedible and/or poisonous. As we seek to understand more about mushrooms, it’s so important to know the species type that you encounter, what it does, and how it could affect you if you consume it.
When in the wild, instead of simply looking for the mushrooms you see in cartoons on TV that have a white fruiting body and speckled red cap, it’s important to know that mushrooms come in various textures and colors that you would never expect. In fact, there are over 10,000 types of mushrooms that have been discovered so far. Some are common types you’ve potentially encountered in your backyard or a wooded area near your house, but other types of mushrooms are, well, different.
Let’s get weird.
The Top 23 Weirdest Looking Mushrooms
If you’re curious which species of mushrooms are the weirdest and most interesting, you’re not alone. In this blog post we’re sharing the top 23 weirdest looking (and most wonderful) mushrooms around. Let’s dive in!
1. Lion’s Mane
Lion’s mane is the multitasker of the mushroom world as it can improve memory, help the heart, ease injury, fortify the stomach… and add a little something-something to a soup or a broth, for good measure. In the wild, you’ll find this light-colored mushroom growing long dendrite-like spines that hang in a way that looks like – you guessed it – a lion’s mane. This funky fungus grows throughout the Northern Hemisphere; think North America, Asia, and Europe. Learn more about lion’s mane’s health benefits.
2. Bleeding Tooth
We said we were going to get weird and we meant it. Bleeding tooth mushrooms look like - yup - an upside down tooth with droplets of blood protruding from the uneven pale-ish pink, white cap. Despite it’s off putting appearance, this mushroom is not harmful and actually may have a variety of health benefits. Bleeding tooth mushrooms are contain atromentin which can be used as an anticoagulant (e.g., it stops bleeding - the irony, we know…). Additionally, it’s shown to contain thelephoric acid which is being used in clinical trials to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
People were really creative when naming mushrooms, huh? You guessed it, puffball mushrooms look like a puffball or a cotton ball. These mushrooms grow in fields all over the United States, are easy to spot, and generally grow pretty large. Unlike other mushrooms, puffballs serve as a spore factory and once they mature, they let go of thousands of spores so that scatter and grow into new puffballs wherever they land! They can be eaten and make for a good addition to meals
4. Indigo Milk Cap
She’s a thing of beauty, indigo milk cap. This mushroom is naturally blue, and when it’s cut, can even stain the things it touches a dark indigo color. These blue beauties thrive in rainy climates and typically fruit in the later summer months. Despite their color leading you to think otherwise, they are edible and can be stewed, sauteed, or enjoyed however you please.
5. Latticed Stinkhorn
Sounds like something out of Harry Potter, right? The latticed stinkhorn mushroom has a striking appearance that looks like a white, cracked egg attached to a red basket of coral. It feeds off of decaying wood and can reach sizes of up to 8 inches in height. Although the appearance itself would dissuade most from eating it, there is no documentation to report that it’s inedible. However, it’s putrid smell should deter you enough, so we wouldn't recommend it.
6. Amethyst Deceiver
This purple mushroom is a stunner. The amethyst deceiver is widespread in Ireland and England, and even parts of Asia and North America. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll see it while it has its bright purple color, but oftentimes the color fades to a white or pale gray. It is edible but easily absorbs toxins from the soil around it, so when foraging, please be careful.
7. Veiled Lady
This mushroom looks like it’s ready for a ball. The veiled lady has a thin stem encased by a white veiled skirt and topped off with a light brown cap. This mushroom is eaten regularly in stir fries and soups, and is considered a delicacy by the Chinese. It is known to have various bioactive compounds including antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. She’s beauty and she's grace.
8. Bioluminescent Fungus
This fungus, also known as ghost fungus, glows in the dark. It does so by using the same substance that makes fireflies shine in the dark. This mushroom resembles turkey tail mushroom in the way it grows in layered skirts on tree trunks. It’s one of only 100 known fungus species that has bioluminescent properties - making it incredibly rare and unique. This mushroom is not poisonous, but there’s still a lot to learn about the mushroom itself - especially what the biological use of the mushroom’s bioluminescence is.
9. Dog Stinkhorn
Not to be crude, but you’ve now entered the phallic shaped mushroom territory. The dog stinkhorn is a small, thin mushroom that has a dark tip. It’s scientific name (Mutinus caninus) literally means dog-like penis in Latin. There’s not a whole lot to say about this mushroom besides that it’s not recommended for consumption. And that's that on that.
10. Blue Pinkgill
The blue pinkgill mushroom is also known as the sky blue mushroom and is native to New Zealand. The tall skinny stalk is topped by an umbrella-like blue cap with deep gills. In general, it’s a small mushroom that has a very delicate fruiting body. The toxicity of the mushroom is unknown, so we don’t have any recommendations on edibility or potential uses.
11. Turkey Tail
Turkey tail mushrooms have long been considered one of the most researched, well-documented edible medicinal mushrooms. They are commonly used for immunotherapy and cancer care, but are also considered a great mushroom to consume regularly for overall health and wellbeing. They are named for their fanned body that has turkey colors (brown, white, and black). Turkey tail has proven health benefits backed up by dozens of studies - *adds supplement to cart.* Learn more about the health benefits of turkey tail.
12. Devil’s Cigar
Truthfully, if you encountered devil’s cigar mushroom in the wild, you may not know it’s a fungi species. But on top of that, this incredibly rare mushroom is only found in parts of Texas and Japan (random, we know - but they are at nearly the same latitude, so that could be why). The mushroom looks like a brown star or flower that’s opening from the ground, but was named the devil’s cigar because of what it looks like in early fruiting stages. Many think of this mushroom as a mystery and there’s still a lot we need to learn about it.
13. Brain Mushroom
The name of this mushroom is another visually descriptive one - it literally looks like a brain. In an unprocessed format, brain mushrooms can be quite poisonous, but adventurous eaters revere it for its taste (when cooked) and unique visual qualities. When unprocessed, the mushroom contains active gyromitrin - a substance that can cause vomiting and diarrhea, headache, fatigue, slurred speech, dizziness, tremor, and (though more rarely) coma and death. Might be good to steer clear unless you’re really seeking a life or death experience.
14. Devil’s Fingers
This smelly, strange looking mushroom species closely resembles a red octopus’ tentacles and splays out like a starfish. While they are found in the UK under trees in parks or in gardens, it’s very rare that you’ll find devil’s fingers growing wild. The fungus smells like rotting flesh and easily attracts insects. 0/10 would recommend eating.
15. Dung Cannon
The dung cannon or hat thrower mushroom is unique in that it is digested by animals and eventually rockets itself at up to 56 miles per hour up to 12 meters from where the animal defecates to spread and grow. Dung cannon makes a lot of sense now, huh? This smaller fungi species is a pest and can hurt gardener’s flowers and vegetables if it starts to spread in their crop.
16. Rounded Earthstar
The rounded earthstar is a lot like Pitbull because it’s Mr. Worldwide. You can find rounded earthstars growing around the globe in mid-to-late summertime. The outer fruiting body resembles an acorn in the middle of a brown star. This mushroom species is high in beta-glucans and is known to have anti inflammatory and antioxidant properties, but unfortunately, also cytotoxic properties making it inedible and harmful to humans.
17. Black Witches’ Butter
Known for it’s dark black color and butter-like consistency, black witches’ butter mushroom grows on dead hardwood trees throughout the year. It has a greasy surface when you touch it. Although there are no poisonous accounts linked to this mushroom, there is question whether it’s edible or inedible. The jury’s out.
18. Basket Fungi
Similar in visual makeup to the lattice stinkhorn, basket fungi resemble a coral basket. They grow wild in various parts of South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, and are edible, but unpalatable according to most that have tried basket fungi.
19. Wood Ear
Wood ear mushrooms gained this name by resembling a delicate brown ear when reaching full maturation. Popular in Chinese cuisines, this mushroom is edible and sought after by many Eastern cultures for its good taste and high nutrient value. The nutrients found in wood ear mushrooms include iron, protein, fiber, and vitamins B1 and B2.
20. Cordyceps Militaris
Cordyceps is a parasitic fungus that grows on the larvae of insects. Sounds gross…we know, but it has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine to treat fatigue, sickness, kidney disease, and low sex drive. When dried, the mushroom resembles an orange worm or caterpillar. There are over 400 types of cordyceps mushrooms, but over the past few years, cordyceps militaris supplements have gained high interest from western cultures for daily supplementation.
21. Orange Pore Fungus
Orange pore fungus resembles something you would see growing in a tropical ocean floor scene and looks like a bright orange fan. Despite its attractive look, this orange mushroom is considered an invasive species and scientists fear it’s taking over fungal species’ habitats. First found in Madagascar in the 1950s, this mushroom can be found on every continent today. Rut ro.
22. Wine Glass Fungus
Another literal naming opportunity taken advantage of, the wine glass fungus looks exactly as it’s named. The fungus produces rosette-like fruiting bodies that resemble a wine chalice. It’s also known as ruffled paper fungus for its mature fruiting body appearance. It can be found growing in grassy areas, just peeking out of soil. They fruit in large numbers in the spring, and are an edible mushroom species.
23. Orange Peel Fungus
Last but not least, and to round out our literal-named fungus species group, is the orange peel fungus that looks exactly like - yes - an orange peel. This widespread fungus is cup shaped and often misshapen due to crowding from other fruiting bodies. While many assume it’s poisonous due to its alarming orange color, it's actually edible. However, it doesn’t have much of a taste. Namely, this fungus exists as a soil enricher when it breaks down.
The wonderful world of weird mushroom species
Thanks for doing a quick deep dive on the top 23 weirdest (and most wonderful) mushroom species we know about today. Want to learn more about mushrooms? Visit our blog to learn more and continue on your own mushroom journey. Happy foraging!