Mutinus elegans

Mutinus elegans JCBright
Mutinus elegans JCBright

I have walked the same field almost daily for over thirty years and never noticed this fungus although I am sure it has always been there. Mutinus elegans did not recently hop off a shipping pallet from Asia – it was first recorded in Virginia in the 1600’s. I need to be more observant since its bold red, a strong contrast with the grass, makes it hard to miss.

Once tuned in I found several more. They first appear as slightly smaller than a golf ball bubble in tan. They hold hard at that point until the autumn rains and the temperature are to their liking.  Then stand back. These fungi grow to their full height (about 3 inches) in less than 2 days.  Within a few days they start to wither, fall over and totally disappear.

What looks like it might be a red leaf caught in the grass, is in fact a sweet sticky mass containing spores. Insects are attracted by the sweetness, at which point the spores tag along for rides to points unknown. 

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