The Devil’s Cigar, or Chorioactis geaster as it is known in scientific circles, is a rare fungus that is found in only two places in the world: Japan and Texas. In Japan it has been found in Kyushu and Kawakami; in Texas in seven counties, all in the mid to north central portion of the state.
Devil’s Cigar, also referred to as the Texas Star in that state, was first found in Austin, Texas in 1893; it was discovered in Japan in 1937. It gets this nickname from its appearance in both phases of its life cycle, and the manner in which it releases its spores.
Before maturity, the Devil’s Cigar emerges from the ground in a small dark brown pod-like shape, which has been said to resemble a cigar. On close inspection, the pod also looks slightly fuzzy. At this point it is about thee inches in size, and protrudes several inches from the ground near decomposing trees. In Texas, it is found around the stumps of cedar elm trees, in Japan it is found around the stumps of oak trees.
As the Devil’s Cigar matures, the pod-like structure splits open, and the spores inside are released in a cloud-like puff of smoke (thus the cigar reference), which is accompanied by a hissing sound which can be heard without too much effort. This process is called dehiscence. After dehiscence, the Texas Star earns the star part of its nickname: it has three to six caramel-brown petals that resemble a star.
In addition to being extremely rare, and appearing in only two locations, Chorioactis geaster is only found during a few months of the year: the cooler months, starting around October and through the fall, at least in Texas.
Because Devil’s Cigar is so rare, there is not a lot of information available about it. Scientists have yet to determine why the Devil’s Cigar is found in only its two known locations, which are at approximately the same latitude.
If you’d like to see the Devil’s Cigar, River Legacy Parks in Arlington, Texas, is one place where Chorioactis geaster can be found each year. It has been spotted in several locations in the park. A sure-thing find is just inside the entrance to the park, just past the gate to the Living Science Center. Stay on the right fork of the path (it’s a dirt path), and look carefully at the ground.
Open specimens will be easier to find because of their size and color, than those that are still closed, as they can be nearly hidden among the leaves, twigs, and other detritus on the ground. Persistent and careful searching, however, will pay off.
Finding Chorioactis geaster will put you in a pretty small club; if you’re fortunate enough to see it smoke as it releases its spores, membership gets even smaller.
River Legacy Parks