Changing Planet

Phallus-shape Mushroom Named After California Scientist

A “wonderful honor,” is how Robert Drewes calls the naming of Phallus drewesii, a new species of mushroom discovered on the African island of Sao Tome.


Photo by Brian Perry, courtesy California Academy of Sciences

The mushroom is two inches long, grows on wood, and is shaped like a phallus, says a statement by the California Academy of Sciences that accompanies this picture.

The new species of stinkhorn mushroom, Phallus drewesii, will be featured on the upcoming cover of Mycologia, a scientific journal on all aspects of the fungi, published by the Mycological Society of America .

The mushroom is named after Drewes, Curator of Herpetology at the California Academy of Sciences, (seen in the photo below, holding the new mushroom), and is described in the July/August issue of Mycologia by Dennis Desjardin and Brian Perry of San Francisco State University.


Photo by Wes Eckerman, courtesy California Academy of Sciences

Phallus drewesii belongs to a group of mushrooms known as stinkhorns which give off a foul, rotting meat odor,” CAS said. “There are 28 other species of Phallus fungi worldwide, but this particular species is notable for its small size, white netlike stem, and brown spore-covered head. It is also the only Phallus species to curve downward instead of upward.”

“The mushroom emerges from an egg and elongates over four hours,” says Desjardin, who is also a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. “Its odor attracts flies who consume the spores and disperse them throughout the forest.”

Desjardin and Perry named the new species after Drewes as an acknowledgment of his “inspiration and fortitude to initiate, coordinate and lead multiorganism biotic surveys on Sao Tome and Principe,” according to the Mycologia paper.

     “It’s a wonderful honor and great fun”

“It’s a wonderful honor and great fun to have this phallus-shaped fungus named after me,” Drewes said. “I have been immortalized in the scientific record.”

Phallus drewesii is not the first species to bear Drewes’ name, CAS points out. A small moss frog native to South Africa (Arthroleptella drewesii, in the picture below) and a blind worm snake from Kenya (Leptotyphlops drewesi, in the picture farther down) were described in 1994 and 1996, respectively.

Photo by Robert Drewes, courtesy California Academy of Sciences


Photo by Dong Lin, courtesy California Academy of Sciences

Over a span of forty years, Drewes has embarked on 36 expeditions to 19 African countries, where he has focused on the evolutionary relationships, natural history, and biogeography of amphibians and reptiles, CAS said.

“Recently, he has turned his attention to Sao Tome and Principe, located in the Gulf of Guinea off Africa’s west coast. Although it is a tiny nation–at 370 square miles, only about eight times the size of San Francisco–it hosts a number of plants, fungi, mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians found nowhere else on Earth.”

Since 2001, Drewes has organized four multidisciplinary expeditions to the islands in an effort to document their biodiversity and gather data for conservation plans.

Phallus drewesii was one of 225 fungus species that Desjardin and Perry collected during the 2006 and 2008 expeditions.

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

Social Media