Dead Man’s Fingers is a saprobic fungus – Xylaria polymorpha. It is commonly found at the base of rotted trees or on decaying wood. Finding a fungus is the woods usually isn’t eventful, but this particular one has such a unique structure that it’s worth talking about.
Some refer to it as positively morbid looking as its fruiting body with white tips has the appearance of long-since dead fingers that have somehow poked through the soil. They can grow up to 3.5 inches tall and secrete a digestive enzyme directly into the host piece of wood allowing them to sustain their growth and eventual reproduction. They are often coated with a carbon-like crust which gives them an even creepier look.
These odd shaped mushrooms are considered non-edible and are mainly seen in summer and early autumn. Morel mushroom hunters have reported seeing them in their juvenile form in early spring when they are an odd bluish color with white tips.
In the United States, Dead Man’s Fingers is commonly found in northeastern, southeastern, and northern Midwestern states. On the contrary, most of the Rocky Mountain states have no record of X. polymorpha, and it’s considered rare in other western states.