There's a fungus among us and it's creeping the internet out.

While it sounds like an '80s horror movie or maybe the name of your cousin's garage band, Dead Man's Fingers is actually a mushroom, or fungus, and when it comes to looks, it's not messing around.

What Does 'Dead Man's Fingers' Look Like?

Well, it looks like a dead man's fingers. But these creepy digits look like they are coming out of the ground to drag you down to wherever they now reside.

Let's just say that if you were not a fan of the final scene in Carrie, you probably wouldn't want to come across these on a jaunty hike through the dark woods.

Xylaria polymorpha, dead mans fingers fungi mushrooms on a fallen tree in woodland
Getty Images

What Is 'Dead Man's Fingers'?

Scientifically known as Xylaria polymorph, which doesn't have as much of a sinister ring to it, is found in many parts of the U.S., from Indiana to Connecticut and New York.


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While it may look creepy, it does—like so many fungi—play an important role in the life cycle of the forest by breaking down organic matter. You can often find it growing out of the bases of decaying trees, which just adds to its creepy factor.

Can You Eat 'Dead Man's Fingers'?

First of all, why the heck are you asking me that question? Before eating any mushrooms, you need to take extra, extra, extra caution and only take the word of professionals. So with that in mind, the experts think that eating Dead Man's Fingers will likely kill you. So unless you want your own dead fingers, don't even think about it.

xylaria polymorpha fungus
Getty Images/iStockphoto

When Fungi Goes Viral

Like most cool things, Dead Man's Fingers had a bit of a viral moment way back in (gasp) 2020 when a very creepy photo depicting what is said to be this very fungus hit Reddit and other social media and news-sharing sites.

Xylaria polymorpha aka Dead mans Fingers
byu/Sea_Land_1944 inWeird

You can see the photo above via a later post. It is thought that this particularly creepy photo was posted in June of 2020 by Regan Daniels from North Carolina in the Mushroom Collective Facebook group. Ironically, they look like toes—but the fact they each have their own little nightmare-inducing toenail just adds to the whole vibe.

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Unfortunately, I was not able to verify if the photo was doctored or even real, but that said, we were all doing a lot of walks in the woods in the summer of 2020.

Is 'Dead Man's Fingers' the Only Creepy Fungus?

Heck no. Thanks to researching this article, I have also discovered something called Jelly Ear fungus, which is a whole other set of nightmares waiting to happen.

Closeup shot of edible mushrooms known as Wood ear
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Turns out that this one is actually edible if cooked, but once again, knowing that a mushroom is edible is one thing—actually being able to properly identify the mushroom is a whole other, so please leave it to the experts.

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