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210129 dead man's fingers
Be afraid! A dead man is poking his rotting blackened fingers up from the leaf litter, reaching for the passing ankles of unwary walkers.

Nah, not really, though the ‘fingers’ – really the fungal fruiting bodies of the aptly named Dead man’s fingers (Xylaria polymorpha) – can look rather spooky when first encountered.

As the First Nature website explains, these wood-rotting fungi play an important environmental role:

they specialise in consuming neither the softish cellulose nor the much tougher lignin but rather the polysaccharides … As a result, when these and various other ascomycetous fungi have consumed what they can of a dead stump the remainder is a nutrient-rich soft mess that insects and other small creatures are able to feed upon.