The other day, I came upon what I thought was a decaying rubber ball on the grass. There are other small balls left lying about the garden as the previous owners had a dog, so this was a logical conclusion. It was a clear pinky red, though, and closer inspection made me suspect it was not a man-made object. But its intricate structure — like a web or a basket — was so unlike anything plant-like in my experience.
Just to make sure, I took a stick and cleared a bit of the grass surrounding it. It seemed to be rooted to the ground. You can see this more clearly in the photo below. I began to suspect it was a fungus. Though this was no fungus that I’d ever encountered in the flesh or in books before.
Days later I came upon another one. My memory not being what it was, I thought it was the previous one, that it had rolled over, and I had just mistaken its location. But, having checked online, I now know it couldn’t have done so, rolled over that is. My search on google — red fungus, basket-like, Mediterranean — confirmed that my extraordinary find is a kind of fungus. This one was a more striking red than the previous.
Basket fungi are noted for their fetid smell — though I had not detected this — that makes them attractive to flies: there is one in the middle of the photo above. Apparently the immature body, that is, before it metamorphoses into a basket, is shaped like an egg, and is edible. There is a white one as well that is endemic to New Zealand.
This article gives more info on this most extraordinary fungus, and also gives it a name — basket stinkhorn, Clathrus ruber. Pity, it is too much of a beauty to be saddled with the word “stinkhorn.” Besides it does not look like a horn at all. I prefer to call it “red basket fungus.” Or if you prefer a name more descriptive of its function, then “red basket flycatcher.” Which name would you prefer?
By the way, the photos above reflect the original, unedited colours.