Xylaria Polymorpha a.k.a Dead Man’s Fingers – Erakina

  • Dead man’s fingers! You must be scared of what this blog is going to show you today, but relax it’s just a species of fungus, want to know more? 

black swollen dead man's fingersA Fungus Species looks like Dead Man’s Fingers.  


  • Kingdom: Fungi 
  • Division: Ascomycota
  • Class: Sordariomycetes
  • Order: Xylariales
  • Family: Xylariaceae
  • Genus: Xylaria
  • Species: X. Polymorpha 


  1. Xylaria Polymorpha is a saprobic fungus(decomposers, breaking down dead organic matter to make energy) commonly known as dead man’s fingers because of its appearance. 
  2. It is commonly found in forest and woodland areas. The bases of rotting and injured tree stumps and decaying wood become the point of their growth. 
  3. They can be identified by their elongated upright, strap-like stomata that come up through the ground and appear like a man’s hand poking out of the ground. Here the Polymorpha means ‘many forms’ which shows its variable but the club-shaped fruiting body looks like burned wood.
  4. Mostly they are found as a multitude of separate digits and sometimes the individual parts fused. They are black from the outside and white from the inside. 
  5. They are about 1 and a half inches tall with clustered irregularly-shaped “fingers”. 
  6. They are majorly found in the deciduous forests of North America and Europe. 

 Dead Man’s Fingers

Number of Xylaria Polymorpha Popping Out of the Decaying Wood

Lifecycle of Dead Man’s Fingers

  • There are a lot of phases in the lifecycle of Xylaria Polymorpha, most of the Ascomycota fungi including Xylaria Polymorpha spent the majority of their lives in haploid stages(having a single set of chromosomes), reproducing by conidia(asexually produced spores).
  • You can observe a ring of black dots around the exterior of the edge of the light-colored insides of the mushroom after taking a cross-section of one of the mature fingers, that is known as Perithecia, these flask-shaped structures store number of asci(sacs) with eight ascospores in each of them, they are sexual haploid spores. 
  • This ascus grows towards the tiny opening in the perithecium(the ostiole), to release the spores into the air. Then these ascus release the ascospores in the air.
  • X. Polymorpha spends years releasing these spores as there are many asci within each Perithecia.  When the conditions favor the spore growth and germination, long-term spore dispersal allows Xylaria Polymorpha to increase its chances of releasing the spores.   

Are These Dead Man’s Fingers Edible?

wild fungus

                                                                          Wild fungus or mashroom looks like dead finger


  • Do you ever want to eat something that looks like a dead man’s fingers? Absolutely no. just like that Xylaria Polymorpha is not edible as well. Although, the mushrooms can be eaten when they are young and tender. They taste like other mushrooms and do not cause any harm when eaten in very small amounts.
  • People have often eaten them and didn’t experience any harmful effects, it might be harmful to one person and not so harmful for another person as it is the characteristics of the mushrooms that some people may show allergic symptoms towards them. 

Some Facts about Dead Man’s Fingers

  • They somewhat look like dead moll’s fingers which are fragile and less common. They are usually found on dead stumps and branches of the plant: sycamore. 
  • The dead man’s fingers are commonly found in the forest of Europe and North America and some parts of Ireland and the UK. 
  • They play a significant role in the wildlife by consuming the polysaccharides in timber which leaves nutrient-rich, soft debris on which many invertebrates feed. 
  • In Ayurvedic (Traditional Indian) medicine, it is used as a dried powder mixed with sugar to promote lactation after childbirth.
  • Its fingers can be seen in different shapes throughout the different stages of its lifestyle doing justice with its name Polymorpha which has many ‘many forms’.
  • So now that you have read and also seen the pictures of the Dead Man’s Fingers, it is easy for you to recognize them when you see one.
  • If you are roaming around in the forest and encounter these black-swollen-like structures, do not confuse it with some dead person who has been dug in the ground and popping out his hands to make his way out of the ground because it might be just a dead man’s fingers.

Internal links:

 Tiny Umbrella Shaped Fungus That Is Both Healthy And Hazardous – Erakina

Fungus yellow: the deathly hallow-Erakina

What are Vegetative, artificial Propagation and its type – Erakina

By Vaidehee Bhawsar

By Vaidehee Bhawsar

Date: 25/01/2022

Tags: food

One Comment

  1. Sindhu

    Very scary to see such kind of species.I never came across such kind of species.Thanks erakina for providing such kind of species.

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