I was mowing the lawn in my backyard the other day and out of the corner of my eye I spotted something I've never seen before at the base of our ornamental crabapple tree. Moving in closer it looked like something straight out of a horror movie.

It's the kind of thing that makes you do a double-take, rub your eyes, and tilt your head. How did these ugly, eerie things end up in our peaceful garden oasis?

dead mans fungus dark brown black pillars
Dead Man's Fingers Fungus (Aaron Galloway)

No, it’s not Halloween decor left over from last year—it's the creepy Dead Man's Fingers fungi, and it's thriving in my backyard in Minnesota - which could actually be very bad news.

What is Dead Man's Fingers?

This bizarre mushroom-like fungus, scientifically known as Xylaria polymorpha, looks exactly like its name suggests: rotting, blackened, shriveled fingers poking up from the ground.

Dead Man's Fingers Fungus minnesota
Dead Man's Fingers Fungi (Aaron Galloway)

Where Are Deadman's Fingers Fungi Usually Found?

Deadman's fingers is typically found in clusters in various shapes on or near decaying hardwood, which is where its scientific name comes from. Xyl- means "woody." Poly- means "several" or "many." Morph- means "shape."

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Decaying beech, apple, maple, locust, and elm trees are the usual hosts for this fungus. However, it can also invade ornamental trees and shrubs that are under stress from other factors, which I believe might be the case with our tree in the photos above.

What Does It Mean When Dead Man's Fingers Appears?

The Xylaria fungus, when found at the base of the aforementioned ornamental trees, may be infecting the tree and causing black root rot.

According to the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, by the time you see this finger-like fungus emerging from the ground, the infection has likely taken a fatal hold on the tree.

Dead man's fingers fungus infected tree
Dead Man's Fingers (Credit: Aaron Galloway)

The infected tree and stump are recommended to be removed, along with as much of the root system as possible.

Dead man's fingers is also known to grow in wood mulch and may not mean any disease is present, like this one found in my friend's yard in Wisconsin.

dead man's fingers grow in mulch
Dead man's fingers growing in mulch (Bridget Befort)

These nightmarish little fungal digits are actually the sexual reproductive structures of the Xylaria fungi, where spores are produced and spit out through a tiny hole in the tip.

Can You Eat Dead Man's Fingers Fungi?

No, you should not eat dead man's fingers. It is now being reported that all Xylaria fungi contain the toxic substances amatoxins and phallotoxins, which are the toxins present in some of the most poisonous mushrooms in the world, including Minnesota's deadliest mushroom, the Death Cap, also known as Amanitas.

RELATED: Dangerous Plant Growing Rapidly Right Now in Minnesota

Keep scrolling to see more poisonous mushrooms you should avoid.

DO NOT Eat These Poisonous Mushrooms

Gallery Credit: Samantha Barnes

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