Heart of a Witch.

The autumn leaves were falling in a dry rustle around us as the trees slowly, reluctantly gave into the darkening days and sighed down to the woodland floor. My eye was caught by something bright red:  careless trash, I assumed, but stopped a moment to check.

Among the leaves was something far odder, older and much fouler than a discarded sweet wrapper. Spongy, fleshy, organic and disturbing, on an October afternoon I had stumbled upon a witch’s heart lying decomposing on the forest floor.

Clatharus ruber has many names: witch’s heart; stinking basket; Stinking cage and it is found in Europe and also in the Americans. The cage of rubbery bright red life erupts from a white egg and the first naturalist to describe it in the 16th century thought it was a marine animal . This fungus appears and decays into a stinking mass in 24 hours. This film clip shows the whole gruesome process:


It took the contents of my water bottle to wash the stinking fungal spores off my fingers. The smell is utterly repellent. You would have to be a carrion fly to appreciate it, but I am glad I got to hold the heart of a witch for just a few jellified, soul shuddering moments!



15 thoughts on “Heart of a Witch.

  1. Driftless Roots says:

    What a great find! I happened to have David Arora’s “Mushrooms Demystified” right next to me as I read this so I looked it up. Unfortunately it’s not reported from my area. He calls it Latticed Stinkhorn (I like Witch’s Heart better!) and opines that it’s the foulest smelling of the stinkhorns quoting one author that says artists don’t like painting it because it’s so awful!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jet Eliot says:

    I loved learning about the Witch’s Heart, Cathy. Your description was so well written, and intriguing. And I am amazed at how big it was in your hand. Great video, too. Fascinating.


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