“Oh, hi, I’m sorry to bother you but I’m calling because I just noticed something disgusting in my side yard, and I thought you might know what it is.
Maybe it’s a mushroom but I can’t tell, it doesn’t look like any mushroom I’ve ever seen. It looks like . . . well I don’t know how to describe it except to say it looks just like a dog’s thing except it’s bright orange, like a traffic cone, and also, the tip seems to be covered in some kind of mud. And it smells! Is it poisonous? Should I keep my pets inside? Will it spread? If you know what this is could you call me back when you get this message?”
Dearest, it’s the Devil’s Dipstick, known less satisfyingly as the Elegant Stinkhorn. The rotting-meat smell attracts flies (there’s one clinging to the bottom of the “mud” in this cell phone picture) and they aid in dispersing the spores. It’s just a mushroom, but one so thoroughly gross looking that I always get a little thrill of the heebie-jeebies when I see it. This specimen was growing out of a thick layer of shredded, dyed rubber tire mulch; exactly where you’d expect the devil to be lurking.