Dead Man’s Fingers Facts
- The attention-grabbing term of Dead Man’s Fingers perfectly fits this distinctive fungus. That’s partly due to the fact that it evolved as a saprobic fungus, meaning it thrives among decaying organic matter. Xylaria polymorpha serves as its scientific name.
- The first recorded scientific recognition of this remarkable species occurred in 1797. A renowned German mycologist originally registered that acknowledgement under a different name. At that time, he initially named the fungus Sphaeria polymorpha.
- While some forms of fungi are consumed, that does not hold true for this variety. Although not toxic or technically inedible, very few people attempt to eat them. That’s largely due to the simple fact that the outer covering has a hard, wood-like texture.
- Fortunately for this particular variety of fungus, its population appears to be stable and sufficient. It’s also reasonably wide spread in terms of habitat range. The IUCN therefore currently has no listing for it on the organization’s published Red List.
- The Dead Man’s Fingers nonetheless does face certain threats to its continued existence, like most forms of life. Given that it thrives most commonly in forests, deforestation naturally poses a great threat. Climate change also threatens it.
Dead Man’s Fingers Physical Description
It must also be pointed out that the Dead Man’s Fingers tantalizes us with its appearance wholly without relying on sheer physical size. That’s due to the simple fact that it’s not a large species. In terms of dimensions, it represents a roughly average-sized type of fungus.
In fact, its height averages between 1.2 – 3.1 in (3 – 8 cm). Its club-shaped form, meanwhile, develops as thicker at the base than at the top. Each specimen also develops either a single stalk, or multiples. Each further averages between 0.4 – 1.2 in (1 – 3 cm) in diameter.
Initially, the outer surface of the Dead Man’s Fingers appears as either grayish or white. As it matures, however, this changes to black, with tinges of blue or green. It also develops a covering of a fine powder, that becomes more granulated as the specimen matures.
The most immediately noticeable physical characteristic of the fungus, however, remains the one that serves as the source of its common name. That’s because, when a specimen does develop multiple stalks, these generally bear a very strong resemblance to a skeletal hand.
- Kingdom: Fungi
- Phylum: Ascomycota
- Class: Sordariomycetes
- Order: Xylariales
- Family: Xylariaceae
- Genus: Xylaria
- Species: X. polymorpha
Dead Man’s Fingers Distribution, Habitat, and Ecology
Quite surprisingly, at least at first consideration, the bizarre Dead Man’s Fingers has a wide, though broken, distribution. It primarily appears, quite commonly, in fact, across much of mainland Europe. It’s most prevalent, though, in the countries of Ireland and Britain.
The intrepid fungus also appears in another part of the world. More precisely, it also grows in many regions of North America. There, most of its population appears in the United States. Accidental importation by man remains the most likely cause of its presence.
Wherever this visually distinctive species appears, though, like most fungi, it displays decided preferences for its choice of habitat. To be more precise, populations of the Dead Man’s Fingers rarely appear outside of deciduous forests. That’s due to its basic nature.
Being saprobic in nature, it almost always appears on or near the remains of dead trees. Even more specifically, however, these almost always consist of dead beech trees. On the rare occasions it’s spotted on other species, these always consist of other broadleaf types.
This fungus actually plays a vital role within the ecosystems it appears in. It consumes the compounds that bind the fibers of the wood together. As a result, the countless numbers of local insect species are able to feast on the rest of the remains of the tree far more readily.