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Eerie clumps of fleshy spines are growing on Smoky Mountain trees. What’s going on?

This is a fungi found growing from wounds on the trunks of trees, says the National Park Service.
This is a fungi found growing from wounds on the trunks of trees, says the National Park Service. National Park Service photo

Unnerving things grow in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, from wild boar to translucent ghost plants, but the National Park Service park recently posted images of something so strange, it’s hard to tell if it’s plant or animal.

A fleshy, formless clump of tendrils, not unlike a sea urchin ... or something extraterrestrial.

The Park service encouraged the public to guess what the intimidating clusters might be, resulting in responses ranging from the ’50s sci-fi monster “The Blob” to the fluffy Tribble from “Star Trek”.

Thousands of tourists are drawn every year to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to witness the mating ritual of a species of fireflies that blink in beautiful synchrony.

The reality is less theatrical, however. It’s a mushroom -- the Hericium erinaceus or lion’s mane -- which begins appearing in late summer and fall, and can get more half a foot wide, says Mushroomexpert.com.

“This striking fungi is commonly found growing from wounds on the trunks of deciduous trees,” said the national park’s Facebook post.

For anyone brave enough to try eating it, the lion’s mane mushroom is considered medicinal, with the ability to help some people with issues like anxiety, memory loss and dementia, according to emedicinehealth.com.

“Considered by many to be an edible gourmet, they supposedly have a chewy texture and taste slightly like seafood,” reports Ozarks State of Mind.

The strange appearance of the mushroom has earned it a long list of nicknames, says the park service, including: “Lion’s mane mushroom, monkey head mushroom, bearded tooth mushroom, satyr’s beard, bearded hedgehog mushroom, pom pom mushroom, or bearded tooth fungus.”

The list goes on.

However, at least one commenter on the national park’s Facebook page decided it was best summed up in one word: “Icky.

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