Horn Stalkball Onygena equina (Willd.) Pers. A recent record for Worcestershire
On 29th January 2012 I found an old decomposing cattle horn in willow and alder carr at Hurcott Wood near Kidderminster. On closer examination, many small pin-like fungi with clubbed heads were found growing on the horn. I took a photograph and later sent the image to John Bingham who identified it as Onygena equina, a rare species not often seen and now listed in the Red Data Book Edition 2. as 'Near Threatened'. A brief description can be found in the Collins New Naturalist book Fungi. (Spooner & Roberts 2005)..
Onygena equina, the Horn Stalkball. is one of a small group of fungi species that grow on keratin found in horn and hooves or sometimes on deer antlers. Another Onygena species grows on feathers. Potentially it can grow on human finger nails, so it needs to be handled and treated with some care!
Quite how long the horn had been in Hurcott Wood or how it got there is a mystery. The horn was so decomposed it had a strong pungent smell possibly due to the fungus or bacteria.
John Bingham’s research revealed that the most recent records for Worcestershire were pre-1909, the date that the Botany of Worcestershire was published. There Carleton Rea noted two sites for the county, Shrawley Wood and Ombersley, and the species was given as 'not common' and “on owl pellets and decayed horse hoof” (Amphett & Rea 1909). No more recent records appear to exist for Worcestershire. Nationally its distribution is local and it is found mainly in the upland areas of the United Kingdom growing on old sheep horns.
Over the years the fungus has declined as farm hygiene and the disposal of dead animals has been improved and controlled by legislation. Dead beasts no longer litter the local woods and I su spect that the fungus is destined to remain a rarity.
Amphett, J. & Rea, C. 1909. The Botany of Worcestershire. Cornish Brothers Ltd.
Spooner, B. & Roberts, P. 2005. Fungi. New Naturalist Series No.96. Collins, London.
Evans, S. (Unpublished, dating about 2008) Preliminary Assessment. The Red Data List of Threatened British Fungi. British Mycological Society.
Fig. 1. Oxygena equina on cow horn.Brett Westwood.
Fig. 2. Onygena equina on cow horn. John Bingham
Fig. 3. Onygena equina on cow horn.John Bingham.