These fingers seem quite scary.

Dead Man’s Fingers: An Odd Fungal Enigma
A Startling Find in the Wilderness of North Carolina

Regan Daniels, a North Carolina resident, came across a scene that was both strange and fascinating in June 2020 while on a stroll in Western North Carolina. She chose to take a picture and post it to a Facebook page honoring the subtleties of mushrooms and forest elements.

The image quickly gained international attention due to its unsettling similarity to a dead man’s leg. But after careful inspection, it turned out to be a distinct fungus called Dead Man’s Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha), which has an interesting moniker.

The Name’s Origin: The Unusual Look of Dead Man’s Fingers

The macabre moniker of this interesting fungus comes from its unusual form. The fungal growth has enlarged, darkened projections that bear a striking resemblance to fingers, seemingly grasping upwards as though someone buried under the forest floor is trying to surface.

Although the image may be startling and eerie, Dead Man’s Fingers are surprisingly frequent, occurring throughout the year. They are common in places like continental Europe, Britain, Ireland, and some parts of North America.

Where to Look for Them: The Dead Man’s Fingers Habitat

One must search for these fungus treasures by searching under stumps or the buried deadwood of broadleaved trees, particularly beech. Dead Man’s Fingers are frequently observed emerging amid moss and decomposing leaves because they have a propensity to invade dead or rotting wood.

These eerie-looking clumps of Xylaria polymorpha were discovered by Regan Daniels in a North Carolina park that she often visits. A robust population of their kin encircled the stump from which the fungus was developing.

Perception of the Viewer: The Mystery of Dead Man’s Fingers

The reason the mushrooms were untouched in the well-trafficked park area was probably because people thought they were poisonous or dangerous. Although some viewers originally found the images to be bizarre and caused a wave of incredulity, they are extremely genuine. You can find a ton of fascinating pictures of them online.

Regan characterized the park as a tranquil area along the French Broad River with breathtaking vistas. Her widely shared image of the Dead Man’s Fingers fungus highlighted the amazing—and occasionally terrifying—things that nature has to offer. It reminds us of all the hidden treasures out there, ready to be found by the astute observer.

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