If you live near birch trees, chances are you live near the conspicuous wood-eating fungus known as Birch Polypore (Piptoporus betulinus). Whereas Tinder Conk fruiting bodies are perennial (capable of growing for multiple years), the fruiting bodies of Birch Polypore are annuals, growing for just a few months (typically in late summer and fall), though spent shelves may linger on trunks or fallen branches for years. Trees may host dozens of decaying specimens. Living mushrooms can be recognized by their smooth white or light brown pore surface, which is unlike the weathered, winter specimens shown here.
Greg Marley* writes that immunomodulating tinctures, teas and decoctions can be made from fresh fruiting bodies, though he forewarns that decoctions and teas are strongly bitter.
Flat slices of Birch Polypore can be used as a leather-like strop to refine a knife's edge. And, as if the flammable bark of the host (Birch) trees was not enough of a gift, Birch Polypore mushrooms, when dried and shredded, make excellent fire-making tinder. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)
Fomitopsis pinicola is a widespread wood-eating medicinal mushroom who goes by the common names Red-belted Conk and Red-banded Polypore. This species often grows on dead or dying conifers, but can also consume various hardwoods. I found today's feature on a dead Red Maple (Acer rubrum).
Red-banded Polypore has a cream-colored pore surface, from which reproductive spores are released. This tough polypore is perennial, often persisting for years. Though not well known as a medicinal, Greg Marley writes that decoctions and tinctures made from this tree mushroom are anti-inflammatory and immune system supporting. For more on the medicinal constituents of Fomitopsis pinicola, consult Marley’s book Mushrooms for Health: Medicinal Secrets of Northeastern Fungi (2009), p. 116-119.
Oh, and one more thing. Anyone in need of a full belly laugh should read the top paragraph of page 579 of Mushrooms Demystified (1986) by David Arora, which addresses the edibility (or rather inedibility) of this species. I'm not kidding, it's hilarious.
Hemlock Reishi (Ganoderma tsugae) closely resembles another tree-growing shelf fungus called Red Reishi (G. lucidum). Fruiting bodies of Hemlock Reishi usually have a dark red/brown stem, though they are occasionally stemless. In the photo above, the stem is mostly hidden from view, but stems can be seen on several of the fungi pictured in Quiz #112. Young fruiting bodies have a red-to-orange cap with a white margin and a white pore surface. Once mature, caps turn a uniform deep red and often become coated with spores (see below).
As you might guess, Hemlock Reishi typically grows on Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), unlike Red Reishi which typically grows on hardwoods. Both species are said to have similar medicinal properties (for details on this, read chapter 7 of Mushrooms for Health: Medicinal secrets of northeastern fungi by Greg Marley).
A frequent destination of mine, as of late, is a wooded trail near my home with a generous quantity of tough tree fungi. One such fungus is Tinder Conk (Fomes fomentarius), a light-colored, hoof-shaped species who I found growing on a Gray Birch (Betula populifolia) tree.
Tinder Conk is a perennial fungus, capable of living for several years if the woody food source allows. According to Greg Marley*, Tinder Conk tends to be smaller on Gray and Paper Birch (B. papyrifera), species who decay rather quickly, and can be longer-lived (and larger) when growing on Silver Birch (B.alleghaniensis), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), and Maples (Acer spp.). That said, Tinder Conk appears best camouflaged when growing on Paper Birch (bottom photo). To my eyes, the tree and fungus appear meant for each other.
The underside of Tinder Conk is slightly concave and covered with tiny pore openings. It is from these holes that spores are released during periods of active growth. For foragers interested in gathering Tinder Conk for medicine, Greg Marley advises collecting "conks only when they are actively growing and producing spores; in the northeast, that is from June through October." The pore surface, he writes, "should look fresh and evenly buff-tan." So, get to know where this species grows now and return in the summer for prime collection.
Perhaps the most famous use of this shelf fungus is as... Tinder! While I can't speak from experience (though I just added it to my to-try list), I've read that Fomes fomentarius is a superb natural material for catching sparks and creating a smouldering coal.
Red Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is a well-known medicinal mushroom that grows here in New England. Along with Maitake, Red Reishi is revered for its modulating effect on the immune system (able to down-regulate overactive immune systems or up-regulate underactive immune systems, thereby helping to restore balance). The mushroom in the photo was growing on a Sugar Maple stump in Plainville. I've also found this species growing locally on Red and Norway Maples.