Dead Man's Fingers

Dead Man's Fingers


Maihueniopsis clavarioides (Dead Man's Fingers)

Maihueniopsis clavarioides (Dead Man's Fingers) is a low-growing cactus with short, grayish to dark brownish stem joints. It grows up to 6…

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Blue Bean, Blue Sausage Fruit, Dead Man's Fingers


Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater

Sun Exposure:


Foliage Color:




USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)

USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)

USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)

USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)

USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)

Where to Grow:


Bloom Color:

Bloom Characteristics:

Bloom Size:

Bloom Time:

Other details:

Soil pH requirements:

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:

From seed direct sow outdoors in fall

From seed winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse

Seed Collecting:

Remove fleshy coating on seeds before storing

Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored


This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Vancouver, British Columbia

Gardeners' Notes:

On Sep 16, 2019, PerryO from Fanny Bay,
Canada wrote:

I currently have two plants, both around 3 feet high, that are just about ready to harvest.
I recently built a greenhouse and have cutting from these plants along with numerous other plants from the garden.
My winter project is to extract the seeds from the pods and experiment growing these plants from the seeds.

On May 5, 2012, WalkingStick from Olympia, WA wrote:

I planted seeds of Decaisnea fargesii in May of 2011, left them outside in a pot over winter (low about 25 degrees) and they are now just germinating in May 2012! It will be interesting to find out if they will do well in Olympia, Wa.

On Mar 16, 2012, floramakros from Sacramento Valley, CA wrote:

One of the few plants with "blue" in its name that is true blue, not violet, purple etc. In sunlight bright and iridescent. In shade creates a blue cloud that really pops. Seed pods hang in clusters, they look like artificial ornaments. Great for those seeking a long lasting blue in the tree canopy. Neighbors will stop and stare, believe me! Great, fantastic looking little tree, did I mention it's BLUE?!

Xylaria polymorpha, the fungus that causes dead man’s finger, is a saprotrophic fungus, which means that it only invades dead or dying wood. Think of saprotrophic fungi as natural sanitation engineers that clean up dead organic matter by breaking it down into a form that plants can absorb as nutrients.

The fungus shows a preference for apple, maple, beech, locust, and elm trees, but it can also invade a variety of ornamental trees and shrubs used in home landscapes. The fungus is the result of a problem rather than the cause because it never invades healthy wood. On trees, it often begins in bark lesions. It can also invade damaged roots, which later develop root rot.

Ann Joy and Brian Hudelson, UW-Madison Plant Pathology
Revised: 8/13/2012
Item number: XHT1201

What is dead man’s fingers? Dead man’s fingers is the name of a mushroom-like fungal growth that can be found at the base of dead or dying trees and shrubs, as well as wood objects (e.g., wood barrels) that are in contact with soil. Some types of dead man’s fingers are produced by wood-decomposing fungi. Others are produced by fungi that cause black root rot. This disease typically is a problem on stressed trees or shrubs, including apple, crabapple, pear, cherry, plum, American elm, Norway maple and honeylocust.

What does dead man’s fingers look like? The most recognizable form of dead man’s fingers is black and club-shaped with a white interior. It appears as solitary or clustered irregularly-shaped “fingers” about 1½ to 4 inches tall, growing on or near dead or dying wood. In the spring, the early stage of the “fingers” is pale, often bluish with white tips. Disease-causing species of the fungus can form a sheath around roots that is at first pale. This sheath later becomes black and crusty, hiding a lighter interior. This sheath/crust can sometimes be seen if soil is brushed away from tree/shrub roots. Trees/shrubs with above-ground symptoms of infection may show decline, dieback, slowed growth, and basal cankers. Infected apple trees may produce an abnormally large crop of smaller than normal-sized fruits.

Where does dead man’s fingers come from? Dead man’s fingers is the sexual reproductive structure of the fungus Xylaria. Sexual spores (called ascospores) are produced inside each club-like “finger” and released through a tiny hole in the top. The “fingers” can release these spores for several months or years. In the spring, Xylaria can produce asexual spores (called conidia) anywhere on its surface. Xylaria also produces threadlike structures (called hyphae) that grow through dead or dying wood. Xylaria can survive as hyphae in roots for up to 10 years, and can spread from plant to plant via hyphae when plant roots come in contact with each other.

How can I save a tree with dead man’s fingers? In urban settings, dead man’s fingers may grow from wood mulch, and may not be an indication of disease. If the “fingers” are considered unsightly, they simply can be removed and discarded. If dead man’s fingers form around or near the base of an apple, crabapple or other known susceptible host, the fungus may be infecting the tree causing black root rot. In such a situation, by the time the characteristic “fingers” appear, the infection is well advanced. An infected tree should be carefully removed including the stump and as much of the root system as possible. DO NOT use wood from Xylaria-infected trees for mulch. There are no fungicides registered in Wisconsin for treatment of black root rot.

How can I prevent dead man’s fingers from being a problem in the future? DO NOT plant susceptible trees or shrubs in a site where dead man’s fingers has been observed. In addition, make sure that susceptible trees/shrubs in other locations are well watered, fertilized, mulched and otherwise maintained to reduce stresses that might predispose them to infection by disease-causing species of Xylaria. Unfortunately, resistant varieties/cultivars of trees and shrubs known to be susceptible to Xylaria (see above) are not available.

For more information on dead man’s fingers: Visit Tom Volk’s website or contact your county Extension agent.

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