Suppose you’re hiking through a wooded area in upstate New York or the famous Appalachian Trail and stumble upon clusters of dark, lifeless human digits protruding from decaying logs. What are those creepy things? For one, they could be Dead Man’s Fingers. Scientifically known as Xylaria polymorpha, this unique fungus is guaranteed to get a double-take. But where exactly do these eerie growths occur, and what should you know about them?
Where Dead Man’s Fingers Grow
Dead Man’s Fingers predominantly grow in forested regions. They are saprobic fungi, which means they thrive on decaying organic matter.
Specifically, they thrive on hardwood trees in various decomposition stages. Fallen logs and decaying stumps are, therefore, their prime real estate. Geographically, they are most prevalent in the Pacific and East Coast of the United States, Europe (United Kingdom, Germany, and Scandinavia), and in the Japanese Alps and the Chūgoku region.
Why are they called Dead Man’s Fingers?
“Dead Man’s Fingers” derives from their uncanny resemblance to human fingers reaching from the ground or wood.
Typically black, grey, or dark brown, these growths can be alarming at first glance. They often grow in clusters, which enhances their eerie effect. Nevertheless, beyond the aesthetic, they serve as a vital part of the forest ecosystem, helping to break down complex organic matter.
Are Dead Man’s Fingers toxic?
Think again before adding Dead Man’s Fingers to the list of foraged foods. The edibility of Dead Man’s Fingers remains to be seen even among experts, unlike the jelly ear fungus. Research has not 100% confirmed the fingers as edible or poisonous. However, it’s better to err on caution and admire them from a distance.