Xylaria multiforme (Xylaria polymorpha) photo and description

Xylaria multifarious (Xylaria polymorpha)

  • Department: Ascomycota (Ascomycetes)
  • Subdivision: Pezizomycotina (Pesizomycotins)
  • Class: Sordariomycetes (Sordariomycetes)
  • Subclass: Xylariomycetidae (Xylariomycetes)
  • Order: Xylariales (Xilariaceae)
  • Family: Xylariaceae (Xilariaceae)
  • Genus: Xylaria (Xilaria)
  • Species: Xylaria polymorpha (Xylaria multiforme)

Synonyms :

  • Dead man's fingers

  • Xilaria is diverse
  • Xilaria polymorphic
  • Sphaeria polymorpha
  • Hypoxylon polymorphum
  • Xylosphaera polymorpha
  • Hypoxylon var. polymorphum

Xylaria polymorpha - Xylaria multiforme

This strange mushroom, often called "Dead Man's Fingers", can be found from spring to late autumn, as it develops very slowly. Young - pale, bluish, often with a whitish tip. Its pale outer cover is asexual spores, conidia, appearing at an early stage of development. By summer, however, the mushroom begins to turn black, and by the end of summer or fall it is completely black and dried out. Somewhere in the middle of this transformation process, Xilaria manifold really looks like "dead man's fingers" eerily sticking out of the ground. However, in the final stages, most likely, it looks like a "present" left by a domestic cat.

Xylaria polymorpha is the most common of the large Xylaria species, but the species name, Dead Man's Fingers, is often used broadly to encompass several species that are microscopically differentiated.


Ecology : saprophyte on decaying deciduous stumps and logs, as a rule, at the base of a tree or very close, but sometimes it can grow as if from the ground - in fact, there are always buried wood remains in the ground. It can grow singly, but is more common in clusters. Causes soft wood rot.

Fruit body : 3-10 cm in height and up to 2.5 cm in diameter. Hard, dense. More or less like a club or a finger, but sometimes flattened, may be branched. Usually with a rounded tip. In youth it is covered with a pale bluish, gray-bluish, or purple dust of conidia (asexual spores), with the exception of the whitish tip, but as it matures it becomes blackish with a pale tip and eventually completely black. The surface becomes thinly dried and wrinkled, a hole forms in the upper part through which ripe spores are thrown out.

Flesh : white, whitish, very hard.

Microscopic characteristics : spores 20-31 x 5-10 μm smooth, fusiform; with straight embryonic fissures extending from 1/2 to 2/3 of the spore length.

Season and distribution

Widespread throughout the planet. Usually it grows in groups, prefers to live on rotten wood and stumps of deciduous trees, favors oaks, beeches, elms, can grow on conifers. Sometimes found on the trunks of weakened and damaged living trees. From spring to frost, ripe fruit bodies do not disintegrate for a long time.


Inedible. No data on toxicity.

Similar species

Xylaria long-legged (Xylaria longipes)

Xylaria long-legged (Xylaria longipes)

It is much less common and is characterized by thinner, graceful fruiting bodies, however, a microscope will be needed for final identification.

Other information about the mushroom

Possesses medicinal properties. In folk medicine in some countries it is used as a diuretic and as a drug to increase lactation.

Photo: Sergey.