The mushroom can only be found growing on recent lava flows on the island of Hawaii. (Photo: Steve L. Martin/Flickr)
Hawaiian folklore speaks of an elusive, rare mushroom, found growing only on recent lava flows, that is sought after by women for its strong aphrodisiac properties. One whiff, it is said, can instantly induce a powerful female orgasm.
Naturally, science had to investigate. And it turns out, the mushroom is real. Yes, it actually works.
Back in 2001, researchers John Halliday and Noah Soule set out to collect and test bright orange-colored mushrooms found growing on 600-10,000 year old lava flows on the Big Island of Hawaii. The fungus is labeled as a Dictyophora species, a group of mushrooms which are, perhaps appropriately, known for being phallus-shaped. The mushroom's bright color and the fact that it grows on lava flows just makes it all the more sexier.
The study, which appeared in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, was the first to describe the morphology and chemistry of the mushroom. It also included a smell test whereby half of all female participants were recorded having experienced spontaneous orgasms while sniffing the mushroom.
Sound too good to be true? Well, there is a catch. While the mushroom's odor produced a heightened arousal in most of the female participants, men who took the smell test found the odor to be absolutely disgusting. The aroma, in and of itself, was described as being "fetid," which means it won't exactly make for a very appealing cologne, in spite of its remarkable ability.
Researchers also discovered what they believe to be the mushroom's orgasm trigger: hormone-like compounds found in the spore mass that may have similarities to human neurotransmitters released during sex. Thus, the reason the mushroom can induce sexual arousal despite smelling like rotting flesh simply comes down to chemistry.
The sexual aftereffects of the mushroom's stink are likely just a coincidence. The reason for its foul smell is to attract insects, which transport the spores and allow the mushroom to reproduce.
There might be something to the aphrodisiac quality of the mushroom after all, though. Some other kinds of fungi are known to contain pheromones which can attract animals. For instance, androstenone, a human and pig pheromone, can befound in truffles-- which is why boars are so compelled to dig them up. Perhaps the Hawaiian Dictyophora has evolved a similar strategy, though more research will need to be performed to know for sure.