Devil’s Fingers (Clathrus archeri) is a rare fungus that was first found in the New Forest in around the year 2000.
At that time, the only other place that it could be found in Great Britain, was one small place in Cornwall, so many mycologists came to the New Forest to see it. So it was an important New Forest speciality with a definite stronghold in the area. Remarkably since then, it has spread all over the New Forest – to be found in the woodlands and out in the open grassy areas, even appearing several years after gorse and heather has been burnt.
The ‘egg’ part of the fungi has the size and shape of a golf ball lying on the ground, but is attached to an underground network of threads (or mycelium) by a long thick strand. It is gelatinous in texture, with a pink tinge from the tentacles or arms submerged inside, and surprising can remain in that state for several weeks, whilst waiting for conditions to be favourable enough to grow. The red tentacles eventually emerge, initially joined at the tip before arching backwards into a star shape. There are always at least three or four tentacles, sometimes even seven or eight, with the upper surface pitted with reticulations, and covered with an evil smelling, olive-coloured, slime (or gleba) which contains the spores.
The entire structure is about 5cm high with tentacles of about 7cm long. Flies, beetles and slugs are attracted to the smell of rotting flesh, and the slime sticks to them when they come into contact with it, and so the spores are dispersed far and wide. It has obviously proved to be an excellent way of spore dispersal, to have allowed colonisation of the entire New Forest in under 20 years, and now even some other places in the South of England. This is a unique and unusual way of spore dispersal for a fungus.
Devil’s Fingers is an alien species from the Southern Hemisphere, where in Australia it is called Octopus Stinkhorn. It is thought to have been introduced to Europe with various war supplies, or possibly with wool, in about 1914. This may account for the fact that it is regularly seen in the New Forest, sometimes in considerable numbers, in areas that were used by the military in 1942.