Clathrus ruber is a species of fungus in the stinkhorn family, and the type species of the genus Clathrus. It is commonly known as the latticed stinkhorn, the basket stinkhorn, or the red cage fungus, alluding to the striking fruit bodies that are shaped somewhat like a round or oval hollow sphere with interlaced or latticed branches. The fungus is saprobic, feeding off decaying woody plant material, and is usually found alone or in groups in leaf litter on garden soil, grassy places, or on woodchip garden mulches. Although considered primarily a European species, C. ruber has been introduced to other areas, and now has a wide distribution that includes northern Africa, Asia, Australia, and North and South America. The species was illustrated in the scientific literature during the 1500s, but was not officially described until 1729.
The fruit body initially appears like a whitish "egg" attached to the ground at the base by cords called rhizomorphs. The egg has a delicate, leathery outer membrane enclosing the compressed lattice that surrounds a layer of olive-green spore-bearing slime called the gleba, which contains high levels of calcium that help protect the developing fruit body during development. As the egg ruptures and the fruit body expands, the gleba is carried upward on the inner surfaces of the spongy lattice, and the egg membrane remains as a volva around the base of the structure. The fruit body can reach heights of up to 20 cm (7.9 in). The color of the fruit body, which can range from pink to orange to red, results primarily from the carotenoid pigments lycopene and beta-carotene. The gleba has a fetid odor, somewhat like rotting meat, which attracts flies and other insects to help disperse its spores.
Although edibility for C. ruber has not been officially documented, its foul smell would dissuade most individuals from consuming it. In general, stinkhorn mushrooms are considered edible when still in the egg stage, and are even considered delicacies in some parts of Europe and Asia, where they are pickled raw and sold in markets as "devil's eggs". However, an 1854 report provides a cautionary tale to those considering consuming the mature fruit body. Dr. F. Peyre Porcher, of Charleston, South Carolina, described an account of poisoning caused by the mushroom:
"A young person having eaten a bit of it, after six hours suffered from a painful tension of the lower stomach, and violent convulsions. He lost the use of his speech, and fell into a state of stupor, which lasted for forty-eight hours. After taking an emetic he threw up a fragment of the mushroom, with two worms, and mucus, tinged with blood. Milk, oil, and emollient fomentations, were then employed with success."British mycologist Donald Dring, in his 1980 monograph on the Clathraceae family, wrote that C. ruber was not regarded highly in southern European folklore. He mentions a case of poisoning following its ingestion, reported by Barla in 1858, and notes that Ciro Pollini reported finding it growing on a human skull in a tomb in a deserted church. According to John Ramsbottom, Gascons consider the mushroom a cause of cancer; they will usually bury specimens they find. In other parts of France it has been reputed to produce skin rashes or cause convulsions.