Walking through Western North Carolina in June 2020, North Carolina resident Regan Daniels took a photo of an odd sight. The image soon gained popularity after she posted it to a Facebook page devoted to mushrooms and forest details because of its unsettling resemblance to a dead man’s leg. On closer examination, though, it was discovered to be a fungus known as Dead Man’s Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha).
The fungus was given this name because of its enlarged, blackened “fingers” that reach upward and resemble someone trapped beneath the forest floor trying to escape. Although Dead Man’s Fingers have a stunning and distinctive appearance, they are rather widespread and can be found all year. They are common in several parts of North America, including Britain, Ireland, and continental Europe.
Look for them on stumps or buried deadwood of broadleaved trees, especially beech, to find them. Because Dead Man’s Fingers primarily attack dead or dying wood, they frequently show through moss and decaying leaves. These eerie-looking Xylaria polymorpha clusters were found by Regan Daniels in a North Carolina area she frequently visits. They were growing out of a stump that was surrounded by similar mushrooms.
The mushrooms were still there despite the area’s popularity, perhaps because people might think they are poisonous or dangerous. Some viewers originally considered the photos to be bizarre and couldn’t believe what they were seeing, but they are real, and there are a ton of fascinating shots of them online.
Located near to the French Broad River, the park was described by Regan as a peaceful area with lovely scenery. Her widely shared image of the Dead Man’s Fingers fungus brought attention to the interesting and even spooky aspects of nature and reminded people of the undiscovered wonders out there.