Its allliiive! But, not quite like that. I mean, mushrooms don’t have blood right? Well hold your hiking stick, because this spooky mushroom might cause quite the fright if you look down and happen to see it. It’s the Devil Tooth Fungus, also known as the bleeding tooth fungus, but we call it, Hydnellum peckii. Hydnellum peckii is a fascinating fungus, and its unique appearance and features have captured the imaginations of people all over the world.

To start, let’s talk about the most obvious feature of this mushroom, its “teeth”. The spines on the underside of the mushroom are actually its reproductive organs, called basidia. The basidia produce spores that are released into the air, which is how the fungus spreads and reproduces. But that’s not the only interesting thing about Hydnellum peckii – the “blood” that the fungus “bleeds” when it’s cut open is actually a special kind of fluid called “extracellular fluid”. This fluid has a similar consistency to blood, but it’s not made of blood cells at all, it is thought to be a defensive mechanism of this fungus to keep it from getting eaten by animals, or, attracting insects to help spread its spores.

Hydnellum peckii’s extracellular fluid is actually pretty unique in the world of fungi. Most fungi have a layer of cells called a “hyphal sheath” that protects their insides. But Hydnellum peckii’s hyphal sheath is so thin that it’s almost non-existent. This allows the extracellular fluid to flow freely out of the fungus when it’s cut open, giving it a “bleeding” appearance. But the creepy side of this fungus doesn’t stop there! Some people believe that Hydnellum peckii looks like a creepy mouth, with rows of sharp teeth. Others say that it looks like a monster’s clawed hand.Some say that Hydnellum peckii even smells like rotting meat, which only adds to its spooky vibe.

It’s not just the looks of Hydnellum peckii that are spooky, it’s also its location. This fungus is most commonly found in damp, dark forests, often growing on rotting wood. It’s said that the moist air in these forests gives Hydnellum peckii a “moaning” sound when the wind blows through its “teeth”. And if that’s not enough, some people believe that Hydnellum peckii has a sinister side.

In some folklore, Hydnellum peckii is said to be a symbol of death and decay. Some say that if you find this mushroom growing near your home, it’s a sign that something bad is about to happen. And if you eat it, some believe that it can cause terrible nightmares. Of course, none of this is scientifically proven, but it’s still pretty spooky, right? One thing that’s really unique about Hydnellum peckii is the way that it’s been used in art. There are many artists who have been inspired by this mushroom’s unique shape and color. For example, the artist Georgia O’Keeffe was known for painting Hydnellum peckii in a way that made it look like a bloody, gaping mouth. She was inspired by the way the mushroom appeared to “bleed” when cut open.

So if you are walking about and see this nightmare from a dentist’s office, don’t worry! Take a moment to bend down and look at it, but lets leave it be and not touch it, just incase some of those myths are true! Boooo!

This article is a feature of the Alliance’s Forests for the Bats – a spooky, Halloween edition of the monthly Forests for the Bay newsletter. Learn more here.