Xylaria Polymorpha or the Dead man’s fingers – Explanation and FAQs

There are different kinds of fungi. This particular kind, the saprobic fungus, derives its nutrients from dead plants or tree barks. The Xylaria Polymorpha look like crooked fingers with yellowish nails, hence the name, Dead man’s fingers. Creepy!

Xylaria Polymorpha Dead mans fingers


What are Dead Man’s Fingers? Are the Dead Man’s Fingers fungus?

Dead man’s fingers are fungi. They are better known by their scientific name, Xylaria Polymorpha. The dead man’s fingers are a special type of fungi known as saprobic fungi. This type of fungi derives its nutrition only from dead and decaying matter. Mushrooms are the reproductive stage of fungi. The Xylaria Polymorpha achieves its signature dead fingers look at this stage.

Thus, the dead man’s fingers are commonly found across the forests floor. They show affinity to growing on decaying organic matter. So they are found in areas where dead tree stumps have fallen. Or in areas where dead roots are found.

They usually grow in clumps and clusters. When a few of these are clumped together, they can give the appearance of a dead person’s hand rising from the earth. Hence, the name.

They can be invasive at times, forming colonies around decaying matter. The dead man’s fingers do not grow on healthy trees.

Where are the Dead Man’s fingers found?

They are pretty common on the forest floors of Britain, Ireland and many parts of North America. Like other fungi, they grow in areas where the temperature-moisture combination is apt for the growth of fungus. This fungus has also shown an affinity for growing on the dead and decaying matter of Apple, Maple, Elm, and Beech trees.

Can we eat Dead Man’s fingers?

No, the dead man’s fingers are inedible.

Why does Xylaria Polymorpha look like a dead man’s Fingers?

The most amazing fact of this fungus is its shape. Polymorpha translates to ‘many forms’. There are over 100 different varieties of the dead man’s fingers. They differ in size, color, location, and spread. Before they mature, they are pale or bluish in color with white tips. They grow long and straight and up to 4 inches tall. The white tips, combined with the clustered growth and their shape, give them look that strongly resembles cold, arthritic fingers. As the fungus matures, it develops a darker color, which makes them even scarier.

When do dead man’s fingers grow?

They mostly grow in the spring season.

Just imagine if you didn’t know what these fungi were and you stumbled upon them in the woods at night, with the moonlight glinting faintly off their white tips. Share this with someone who likes the outdoors!


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