Tim Entwisle talks to Angela Catterns on 702 ABC Sydney - 29 July 2003

Starfish fungus

  • Following our chat about a new underground flowering plant Fairy Lantern in 2002 I’ve been sent a few photos of something that looks a bit like it but is in fact a fungus, not a flower.
  • This thing has been reported from home gardens and from school grounds and it comes up regularly in my own garden.
  • Its scientific name is Aseroe rubra, meaning (literally) the ‘disgusting red’.
  • Its common names include Starfish Fungus, Sea Anemone Fungus, Anemone Fungus and Stinkhorn.
  • This fungus is like a large, land, sea anemone with outstretched red tentacles and an evil-smelling brown-green slime in the centre. The fruiting body emerges from an 'egg. 
  • It has a very unpleasant odour, like rotting meat, to attract flies (which then spread the spores).
  • It grows on rich humic soils in sheltered spots. In Victoria, Aseroe rubra occurs almost exclusively in alpine areas, but in Tasmania it has been recorded from lowland sites close to the northern coast. It is also in New Zealand, New Caledonia and New Caledonia, with related forms further afield.
  • Around Sydney (and elsewhere, including New Zealand) it commonly appears in wood chip mulch. The fungal hyphae are growing in the wood.
  • The stinkhorn Aseroe rubra was the first species of fungus to be collected and described from Australia. Jacques Labillardière (1755-1834), a member of the D'Entrecasteaux expedition, collected the specimen on 1 May 1792 at Recherche Bay in southern Tasmania and published an account of it in 1800.
  • In 1829 the Starfish Fungus was found growing in a glasshouse at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London, on soil imported from Australia.


If you want to get involved in Fungimap, a community scheme for recording the distribution of various showy fungi (a bit like schemes that exist for birds and frogs), contact Bettye Rees at University of NSW b.rees@unsw.edu.au