Ileodictyon cibarium is a saprobic species of fungus meaning its formed from the process of decaying dead organic matter. Commonly known as white basket fungus or stink cage, they grow alone or cluster together near woody debris, in lawns, gardens, and cultivated soil.
White basket fungi remind me of small hollowed-out soccer balls and the only remnants are white lattice-like interlaced branches that are covered with a smelly slime layer (gleba). Their pentagonal pattern appears manufactured, too proportioned, and alien-like.
These fungi are tumbleweed-like in that after separating from the volva the wind helps roll the basket. A smelly olive-brown slime on the inside of the net attracts flies that then spread the spores.
I first stumbled upon Ileodictyon cibarium in Abel Tasman National Park, but since traveling around New Zealand I find them popping up everywhere. Such is the case when you spot a new species, you can’t help yourself from finding more of them.
But when it comes to discovering white basket fungus, they’re so strange and out-of-place that they immediately grab your attention.
This species is typically found in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa and has been recorded in Chile as well as introduced to Africa and England. Although it is classified as a stinkhorn, a more proper term would be a “stink cage”.
Maori ancestors had over 35 different names for this fungus, suggesting that it was well known in New Zealand. Some names like tūtaewhatitiri refer to its apparent sudden appearance after thunderstorms – Whatitiri is a name of a thunder god. In the South Island, whareatua – house of the devil – was linked to its net-like appearance.
White basket fungus commonly appears after rain and is called tutae kehua, or “ghost droppings”, by Maori. It certainly looks like the kind of thing left behind by ghosts.
Prior to the opening of the volva, the fruit body is egg-shaped and white to grayish in color. Māori would eat this thick gooey shell before the basket bursts out and develops a layer of stinky slime. It can be roasted in the ashes of a fire, or cooked in hāngī.
If you find a basket fungus in good condition, hold your nose, and blow up a round balloon inside the basket. Tie off the balloon, and let the basket dry against the balloon. Then pop and remove the balloon.