Weird and Wonderful: Dead Man's Fingers

The first time you will encounter these plants (one is an organism), you will probably not pay much attention. But if you will be told that they are commonly called Dead Man's Fingers, you will surely take a second look if only to check why they got their odd common name. See for yourself.

Xylaria polymorpha
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This is an unusual saprobic fungus widely distributed throughout the deciduous forests of North America and Europe. It can be seen on dead and decaying wood stumps and logs usually at or near the base either growing alone or in clusters. Xylaria polymorpha can be recognized by its elongated upright, club-shaped stromata poking through the ground in its pale or bluish color with a whitish tip in early spring. By late summer or fall it dries out turning its color into black making it look like burned wood or its common name--Dead Man’s Fingers.

Alcyonium digitatum
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Another Dead Man’s Fingers are soft corals that live in thick, fleshy masses with finger-like branches covered with small polyps. Each polyp has eight tiny tentacles which give them their white and translucent furry appearance and their creepy common name. When the polyps are retracted, the coral structure looks like leathery fingers.

Codium fragile
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Codium fragile, also called Green Sponge and Green Sea Fingers, is a green alga believed to have originated in Japan. It can be identified by its dark-green coloring; cylindrical finger-like branches; soft, fuzzy surface and bush-like appearance. This edible seaweed is one of the world’s most invasive species.

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Here’s one that really looks like its name. It’s the fruit of a small tree native to eastern Asia. One look and you will never forget it’s freaky purplish-blue elongated pod-like follicle the size of a large man’s index finger. Inside is a transparent, glutinous, jelly-like pulp with flat black beans arranged in two rows . The pulp is edible and the flavor is described as sweet with a hint of watermelon or cucumber and the texture gelatin-like. Some gardeners refer to it as the Blue Sausage Fruit. The plant is related to the chocolate vine family.