impudicus

Rude, erect and smothered in flies, this fungus has no shame

The stench of death, the buzz of flies, the indecent exposure – it was a stinkhorn. Rude, erect and smothered in bluebottles, the fungus was at the side of the path to the follies at Hawkstone Park, though bank holiday visitors paid it little attention.

In the 18th century, when this landscape theme park was created, Linnaeus named the fungus Phallus impudicus, literally “shameless phallus”. I imagine visitors then would have been familiar with what the herbalist John Gerard called the “prike mushroom’ in 1597; other folk names included deadman’s cock. Gwen Raverat, the engraver and granddaughter of Charles Darwin (in her 1952 memoir, Period Piece), told a story about her Aunt Hetty (Darwin’s daughter) collecting stinkhorns from the woods and burning them in secret. This was reportedly to protect the morals of the maids but, given Hetty’s neopagan interests, perhaps it was something more fun.