Trametes versicolor is a wood-eating shelf fungus who can be found year-round in much of North America. It's common to find large logs covered with hundreds of these hairy, leathery fruiting bodies. (Michael Kuo's article covers how to separate this species from similar fungi.) The top colors vary widely but often include blues, browns, and creams; the outer margin is usually white. On the underside of these multi-colored shelves is a white or nearly white pore surface with thousands of tiny openings. This species is commonly known as Turkey Tail.
Greg Marley writes at length on the medicinal properties of T. versicolor (or extracts thereof) in his book Mushrooms for Health: Medicinal secrets of northeastern fungi (2009) and reports that, "Turkey Tail is the best-researched and most clinically tested of the medicinal mushrooms, at least by allopathic medicine standards" (p. 82). A formulation of Turkey Tail known as PSK is a leading anticancer medicine in Japan, often prescribed in combination with radiation and chemotherapy. (Read Marley's chapter for more details.)
Turkey Tail is too leathery to be consumed in whole form, but fungi foragers can prepare hot water decoctions (broths) and/or double-extraction tinctures of this mushroom. Just be sure to gather only actively growing mushrooms, with white growing edges and fresh pore surfaces. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)
Last moon, while scouting for mushrooms, I walked right past this sizable, fleshy fruiting body growing at the base of a large Oak (Quercus sp.). Luckily, Jenny was with me, and she didn't miss it.
"Whoa! Josh, check that out," she exclaimed.
"Now that's a mushroom," I replied as I doubled back along the trail.
Minutes later, we shared our find with a mother and daughter (and their friendly canine companion) who were out for an afternoon ramble.
Back at home, I consulted my nature library and some online resources and found a name for this brain-like mass: Sparassis spathulata (syn. S. herbstii and S. caroliniense) or commonly the Eastern Cauliflower Mushroom. Have you ever bumped into one of these?
For identification details, visit MushroomExpert.com.
Today marks the end of my Mushroom Moon Challenge which began on September 14th. I observed well over 30 species of fungi including many species I've previously profiled:
Craterellus cornucopioides (Black Trumpet)
Fomes fomentarius (Tinder Conk)
Ganoderma applanatum (Artist's Conk, pictured above)
Ganoderma tsugae (Hemlock Reishi)
Hydnum repandum (Hedgehog Mushroom)
Inonotus obliquus (Chaga)
Piptoporus betulinus (Birch Polypore)
Suillus americanus (White Pine Bolete)
I got to know a dozen or so new-to-me ground-dwelling species and took a closer look at many familiar-to-me wood-eating species. Below is a gallery of some of the fruiting bodies I observed during my moon-long challenge. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)
If you've been studying medicinal mushrooms much in recent years, you've likely heard about Chaga (Inonotus obliquus). Chaga is peculiar among medicinal mushrooms in that the part that is gathered for medicine isn't technically a mushroom (i.e., not a spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus) but rather a sclerotial mass. For years, I hadn't thought much about this distinction, that is until I came upon the above tree late last month.
I immediately recognized the char-like growths on this dead-standing Birch (Betula sp.) tree, but was puzzled by the unfamiliar sight beneath the bark. Could this be a Chaga fruiting body? A little research turned up an article by Maine mushroom forager and author Greg Marley called Chaga; The Elusive Fruiting Body of Inonotus obliquus (Chaga) which confirmed my hunch. In the article (which includes photographs), Marley describes discovering a tree with a similar fruiting body during a November 2014 foray with the Maine Mycological Association.
I should mention that, photographs aside, I didn't gather medicine from this tree. It's my understanding that Chaga sclerotium is best gathered for medicine while the host tree is still alive. I've included photos below in hopes that they'll serve as search images for you, in case you've yet to meet this fungus in the flesh. Don't expect to find chunks of Chaga lined up on a log or sitting on a shelf of Birch Polypore, as shown in the last photos; I arranged those scenes for your enjoyment.
For more search images and info on Inonotus obliquus, see David Spahr's article. For a discussion on Chaga conservation, see the two videos by Arthur Haines. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)
A great many mushroom species have gills or tubes from which spores are released; a relative few have spines, or so-called teeth, instead. One widespread toothed mushroom who grows on the ground is Hydnum repandum, the Hedgehog Mushroom. Author David Spahr speaks highly of this edible, typically bug-free mushroom, in particular noting the Hedgehog Mushrooms's pleasing aroma. Referring to his experience dehydrating them, he writes, "I do not think any mushroom makes my house smell better".* To learn more about Hydnum repandum, read Spahr's online article and visit Michael Kuo's authoritative site. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)
*David Spahr, Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada (2009), p. 54. A free web-based version of the book can be found here.