Last Updated on January 13, 2023

Believe it or not, there are a variety of fungi that grow in the desert.

Mycelia has adapted to survive in the harshest desert environments, lying dormant under the sand for months or even years waiting for the perfect moment for its mushrooms to emerge from underground after a rare period of rain.

Other types of fungi create symbiotic relationships with other organisms to ensure survival in these harsh environments.

Desert fungi can remain dormant in the desert soil until disturbed, then attack with toxic spores that cause serious diseases.

Much like desert flowers, some species of desert mushrooms can paint colorful canvases amongst sand dunes when they emerge after a rainy day, a phenomenon known as desert “bloom”.

Desert Mushrooms that grow on sand dunes
Mushrooms growing on sand.

Mushrooms that love sand dunes

Many species of fungus that live in sandy environments have “evolved” specific and special evolutionary adaptations, learning to grow and thrive on arid terrains and sand dunes on both desert and coastal areas.

These can be found throughout the world, and are especially widespread in Europe, where they bear fruit after the first rain in early autumn, although they are threatened by the gradual disappearance of sand dunes and their natural ecosystem.

One of the most common sand mushroom is undoubtedly the dune brittlestem, or psathyrella ammophila (from Greek ammos = “sand” and philos = “lover of”), because they thrive in sandy soils and can withstand periods of dry, hot weather for several months.

Albeit rare, dune brittlestems are widespread in the UK and all over the European continent, and have also been found in Northern Africa, New Zealand, and Canada.

Dune Brittlestem (Psathyrella Ammophila), the “sand mushroom”.

Below, a list of mushrooms that are known to grow on sand dunes and in the desert:

Black Earthtongue (Glutinoglossum glutinosum)

The Black Earthtongue is a fungus that fruits on grassy sand dunes, it is not uncommon but often goes unnoticed. It can be found in hilly meadows in late autumn and during winter, and can be identified by its black, tongue- or finger-like fruiting bodies, which grow on the ground or on wood

Black Earthtongue is native to Europe, but it has also been found in North America and other parts of the world.

Desert Shaggy Mane (Podaxis pistillaris)

Podaxis pistillaris is a saprophytic fungus that grows solitary or gregarious predominantly in desert soils.

Desert Shaggy Mane can be identified by its distinctive, shaggy, cylindrical fruiting bodies, which grow on the ground in clusters.

It is a very common species in the deserts of the southwestern United States and California as well as in Mexico and remote parts of the Australian desert. In contrast, it is very rare in Europe.

Desert Truffles (Terfezia)

In the desert you can not only find mushrooms, but also truffles which grow underneath the surface.

Desert Truffles are small, round or oblong fungi that grow underground. They have a hard, spore-covered outer shell and a soft, edible interior.

Different varieties of desert truffles are widespread in mediterranean countries and very appreciated as delicacies in Northern Africa and the Middle East, where they are known with the common name of “terfez” (or terfess).

Dune Brittlestem (Psathyrella ammophila)

The dune brittlestem is a species that lives exclusively on the first dune of shorelines, directly on sand or mossy areas, sometimes even a short distance from the shoreline, common; from autumn to spring.

It is one of the most popular “sand mushrooms” and it can be found on sand dunes and beaches in many parts of the world, including Europe, North America, and Australia.

Dune Brittlestem can be identified by its small, thin, brownish-grey fruiting bodies, which grow on the ground in clusters or individually. The mushroom has a brittle stem and a smooth, sticky cap that becomes dry and powdery as it matures.

Dune Stinkhorn (Phallus hadriani)

Phallus hadriani is a peculiar form of a curious mushroom because of its “phallic” shape, that is, it resembles a kind of penis (hence the scientific name),
because the same gives off a strong cadaverous odor perceptible even from several meters away, a characteristic for which it is also known as Dune Stinkhorn.

Dune Stinkhorn can be identified by its distinctive, phallus- or penis-like fruiting bodies, which grow on the ground in clusters or individually. The mushroom has a sticky, smelly spore mass on its tip, which attracts insects that help to disperse its spores.

Dune Waxcap (Hygrocybe conicoides)

Hygrocybe is a genus of fungi so defined because it usually has a moist-viscid cap. Dune Waxcap is quite common and grows mainly on coastal grassy sand dunes throughout the United Kingdom; it is characterized by reddish gills that can sometimes turn black.

This mushroom is typically a bright yellow or orange color, but it can also be white, pink, or red.

Western Giant Puffball (Calvatia booniana)

Puffballs are several species of fungi that Calvatia booniana is a species of puffball mushroom that can grow up to 28 inches with a round or pear shape.

Western Giant Puffball can be identified by its large, spherical fruiting body, typically white or cream-colored when it is young, but it turns yellow or brown as it matures.

Some of these mushrooms are common in parts of North America and grow in the US desert.


Read also: Desert Gardening: Which Crops Can You Grow in the Desert?

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