A collection of Bracket and crust fungi. Found growing on trees, logs and dead/decaying wood.

Bay Polypore

Many bracket (or shelf) fungi grow all year round, or at least from spring through to autumn. This one is a classic example – most common in central Europe but less so farther north.

Polyporus durus The Bay Polypore (Polyporus durus / P.badius) can be found throughout this long season. I live in middle England and find them ‘now and again’ – they’re one of the few ‘good looking’ polypores out there, as many can be quite dull and inconspicuous with bland colours.

The size of the mature fruiting body can differ greatly, ranging from 5cm up to approximately 20cm across. The first group of photos below show several examples from the same group, all different shapes and sizes. The typical ‘off-centre’ stem (which is mostly black – or at least at the base) produces a thin, lobed and often wavy cap. It’s very smooth with a very slight ‘waxy’ feel.

The colour also varies with many shades of brown and mahogany. Age is also a key factor in these variations too. When young, the fruiting bodies are pale/pallid brown becoming dark brown/mahogany at maturity. The first group of photos here show some ‘rich’ dark brown examples – so much so that I had to get a second opinion and microscopic confirmation from the spores. They were indeed Bay Polypores, just darker than usual. As a rough ‘general’ colour guide I would say they’re most often a mild pallid brown, often with darker central zone. But when it comes to identification, fungi like to keep you on your toes!

As many of you will know (or may not know) fungi such as these do not have gills on the underside but have pores instead (from where their reproductive spores will drop). ‘Polypore’ simply translated means ‘many holes’, and in this case they are very small holes; around 5-10 per millimetre! So at first glance the underside looks like a smooth creamy white, featureless surface. You have to take a closer look. And like most polypores, they only grow on tress, trunks or fallen logs etc. In this case the Bay Polypore will only be found on dead or living deciduous wood.

Lookalikes?

You may also stumble across the Blackfoot Polypore (P. leptocephalus) which I find is a more common species but essentially smaller (cap ranges from 2-10cm across) and much paler with radiating streaks on its surface. It is also found on dead/dying deciduous wood, but not living trees.

Bracket fungi for foraged food?

Well, to be honest, there are not many bracket fungi out there for the pot. Many are too thin, too tough, too bitter or all of the above! Never mind, I’m sure they appreciate not being eaten to carry on they’re great ecological work.

So, keep a look out for all those variable brackets out there this spring, summer and autumn (especially on fallen trunks). Enjoy.

Polypore fungi

The typical wavy/lobed shape of the Bay Polypore. Notice the dark/blackish stem base.

Bay Polypore

Older examples of the Polyporus durus – Mahogany brown in colour and extreme wavy/lobes edges.

QUICK ID TABLE: BAY POLYPORE Polyporus durus

CAP / FLESH

5-20cm across.

STEM

0.2-0.4cm x 0.5-1.5cm, off centre. Black(ish) more so at the base.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

Very small, circular (5-10 per mm). White/pale cream.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On dead or living deciduous trees. Spring to autumn.

EDIBILITY

Not edible. Too tough and bitter.

The Genus POLYPORUS (Polypores): Characteristics to look out for:

• Nearly all are bracket fungi, but a few are with typical cap and stem but with pores instead of gills on the underside.
• Usually tough/leathery or hard and woody.
• Many are perennial or annual
.

Say what you see! It has to be
A Lumpy Bracket

Most bracket fungi are usually every day ‘all year round’ kind of guys, some persisting even for years. And here’s one of the other common shelf fungi to perpetuate throughout the year, releasing it’s reproductive spores (sporulating) during spring. It can be large, lumpy, but unfortunately inedible which is a shame due to the potential size it can reach.

Trametes gibbosaThe Lumpy Bracket (Trametes gibbosa) is found in woodland exclusively growing on dead deciduous wood, of which it favours beech, often solitary but also can be found in medium to large groups (sometimes very large groups – see photographs below). Either way, most of the time it is a striking white colour (sometimes with hues of grey or buff) and very thick and lumpy.

One fruiting body can grow up to 20 cm across and up to 7 or 8 cm thick. It’s typical semicircular shape often displays a distinctive central hump at the back where it meets the wood, especially when larger. The attachment to the wood is very thick and sturdy.

Its surface texture is initially velvet-like due to very fine surface hairs and later, with age, it becomes smooth to the touch.

A key characteristic I always look out for in order to confirm identification for sure, especially while out in the filed, is that the margin (edge of the bracket) is noticeably thick (like an outer ‘lip’ – especially when younger), although it does become thinner with age. It sometimes is a darker shade to the rest of the fungus, but this may be due to environmental conditions etc. And talking of that, you may stumble across many examples that appear green! This is because they are key targets for algae that like to grow among the fine downy hairs on the surface.

The pores on the underside are distinctively elongated and quite large. They are initially white or grey-white and age to a creamy colour.

In large groups (especially when younger) as illustrated in the photograph below, they can appear in stunning floral-like arrangements. I had to double check these were Lumpy Brackets as it’s not a typical site to see. But they were indeed worth a photograph or two. So keep a look out for these beauties, and as I commented on earlier, it’s a shame they’re not edible.

Top: Typical semi-circular bracket shape. Centre left: Green algae on upper surface. Centre right: Underside showing elongated pores. Bottom: Large group of Lumpy Brackets growing on stump

Top: Typical semi-circular bracket shape. Centre left: Green algae on upper surface. Centre right: Underside showing elongated pores. Bottom: Large group of Lumpy Brackets growing on stump

QUICK ID TABLE: LUMPY BRACKET Trametes gibbosa

FRUITING BODY

5-20cm across. Semicircular shape. 1-8cm thick. White, usually buff hues or with green algae markings. Minutely downy, later smooth.

FLESH

White. Cork like consistency.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

Medium to large. Elongated.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On dead deciduous wood, usually beech. All year. Sporulating in spring.

EDIBILITY

Not edible. Too tough. Bitter and tasteless.

Sulphur Surprise – Chicken of the Woods

It was one of those rare times when I ventured out looking for something in particular and actually found it! Summer isn’t a great season for mushroom hunting but it does have some interesting and choice variety (albeit small) of edible fungi.

Laetiporus sulphureusAt the edge of a long woodland path in a Leicestershire wood, fortune was on my side when I came across Chicken of the Woods or Sulphur Polypore (Laetiporus sulphureus). One of those bracket fungi that are instantly recognisable and a joy to behold.

What I found was a very modestly sized tier of Sulphur Polypore (a common name I seem to prefer). The upper (older) bracket, although still featuring lemon yellow pores on the underside was unfortunately losing it’s full potential of colour on the top side.

The younger sprouting shelves though were more succulent and rich in colour, soft and malleable to the touch.

Chicken of the Woods quite often grows in high layered formations around a metre or more high, with fanned brackets reaching up to 30-40cm or so in width. But like many fungi and mushrooms, finding it in the prime of it’s life is paramount, not only for identification reasons but (as in this case) for edibility.

Instantly recognisable features of this bracket fungus are the bright yellow and orange colours. The very small pores on the underside are a striking lemon yellow and the upper side (depending on age) is more orange yellow (often ridged and wrinkled in shape).

With age, the upper surface will lose it’s colour along with the rest of the fungus. Finding it young is a must. The flesh of the younger folds are often quite thick and succulent, ideal for your cooking pot. But even though it looks beautiful and enchanting this fungus is actually a parasite often found on dying oak trees and also on other trees such as sweet chestnut, poplar, willow and yew. But in this case – a cherry tree.

Edibility-wise this fungus doesn’t tick all the boxes for all people. Only the young , fresh parts are worth eating. It does have a strong taste which sometimes can be quite acidic and bitter. But it’s all in how you cook it and I’m not a notable chef (unless it’s in a curry of course) so I can offer no advise. It’s very much trial and error with this fungus. It’s up to you to see how you can make it a ‘chicken substitute’, and being a very ‘tofu-like’ flesh, it has great potential in the kitchen. You can save some for later too because it stores well in the freezer for a while.

Finally (and as always), be careful trying any mushroom/fungus (you understand is edible) for the first time, as their may be an unwelcome reaction. Only try a small portion at a time and give yourself a generous few hours to see how you go. I would recommend that Chicken of the Woods found on Yew trees to be avoided altogether. It has been known to cause severe gastric upset, dizziness and general nausea. That’s not what you want!

But apart from that warning – Happy hunting…

Chicken of the Woods fungus - Laetiporus sulphureus

The typical Orange/Yellow colours of the Sulphur Polypore (Chicken of the Woods). The thick white flesh of the younger brackets are best for cooking.

Sulphur Polypore

Another example of the fungus; layered in the usual way but more fleshy and rounded.

QUICK ID TABLE: CHICKEN OF THE WOODS / SULPHUR POLYPORE Laetiporus sulphureus

FRUITING BODY

10 – 40cm accross. Fan shaped / Semi-circular. Irregular margin. In large tierd groups. Yellow/Orange. Thick and fleshy. Turns straw/white coloured with age. Uneven upper surface – usually lumpy-like.

PORES / TUBES / SPORE PRINT

Very tiny pores (circular or ovate). Sulphur yellow in colour.

Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On deciduous trees. Common on Oak, Cherry, Poplar and Willow. Thoes found on Yew known to be poisonous. Late spring to autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible when young and fresh. Best cooking tips from Germany & North America.

The Genus POLYPORUS (Polypores): Characteristics to look out for:

• Nearly all are bracket fungi, but a few are with typical cap and stem but with pores instead of gills underside.

• Usually tough or hard and woody. Some softer and edible.

• Many are perennial or annual.

Tickled Pink! – The Blushing Bracket

I hope people don’t mind me featuring an overdue fungus to the Mushroom Diary. Yes, it’s a common, dull and inedible bracket fungus that appears in many numbers throughout the year. But just in case you’re not sure what this familiar sight is, it will be a pleasure for me to explain for you…

Daedaleopsis confragosaExtremely common in our English woodlands, the Blushing Bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa) is often found on the dead wood of Willow trees but also on many kinds of deciduous trees.

The semi-circular or fan shaped brackets, often in grouped tiers, can grow up to 15cm across. The upper surface shows distinctive radiating ‘bands’ and has a wrinckled surface texture (smoother when young). They are often thicker at the point of attachment to the wood (up to 5cm) and the margin remains thin and undulating.

As an ‘all year round’ fungus, like a lot of bracket fungi, it’s colour changes dramatically throughout it’s lifetime. When young to middle-aged they are white or have a white-pinkish tinge. They age to a much darker reddish/brown and become a lot tougher and ‘corky’ in consistency.

When younger and more fresh, a little test on the underside can reveal their identity. The white(ish) pores are quite large and are a mix of elongated slots and round holes. Rubbing these with your finger you will see them readily bruise (or should I say ‘blush’) pinkish/red. This is unique to this bracket alone.

When they are very young and quite small I often think they may be something new I haven’t seen before, but over time I have realised that the ‘tickled pink’ test will tell me what it is straight away. It’s always good to have an ‘in the field’ test under your belt.

Daedaleopsis confragosa

The Blushing Bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa) turns a deep red/brown as it ages. Notice the Pinkish/Red bruising on the pores (top-right). This is how it got it’s common name.

QUICK ID TABLE: BLUSHING BRACKET Daedaleopsis confragosa

FRUITING BODY

Up to 20cm diametre / 1.5-5cm thick. Semi-circular or fan shaped. Thin margin. Wrinkled and radially ridged. Found singularly or in tiered groups. White/Pink when young then brown/reddish when old.

PORES / TUBES / SPORE PRINT

Large round and elongated pores.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On dead deciduous wood, esp. Willow. Very common. All year.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Tough and very bitter.

The Genus POLYPORUS (Polypores): Characteristics to look out for:

• Nearly all are bracket fungi, but a few are with typical cap and stem but with pores instead of gills underside.
• Usually tough or hard and woody. Some are softer and edible.
• Many are perennial or annual
.

Shelling out – The Oyster mushroom

It’s good to know some mushrooms can appear all year round, especially when they’re edible and good. It’s nearly always the right time to look out for these beauties…

UK Oyster MushroomIn this case it’s the common and most welcome Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus). Usually growing in medium to large clusters on fallen logs, stumps or standing trunks, it’s one mushroom I always look out for during the ‘out of season‘ months. I mainly choose deciduous woods to visit (some can grow on coniferous wood) where they are most commonly found, especially on beech.

And thankfully they are also one of the most recognisable species out there. The distinctive ‘shell’ shapes and lateral (often minimal or missing) stems with white decurrent gills are all typical characteristics. The caps are convex shaped when young but will flatten out as they grow, often becoming wavy or split at the margin. And just to note: very rarely will you see a ’rounded’ shaped cap, but it does happen.

There is one thing though that the Oyster mushroom is not reliable with – and that is it’s colour (just like my spellchecker telling me I’ve spelt color wrong!). The shades are quite variable, but tend to be in subtle shaded hues of grey/whitish-brown, blue-grey, violet-grey etc. As you can see in these photos, I have stumbled across the grey-brown kind. A variant of the Oyster mushroom named Pleurotus columbinus is more or less the same mushroom but with a striking and beautiful violet cap. I haven’t seen any of those though. Shame.

As most of us all know, Oyster mushrooms are one of the most popular mushrooms to eat on the planet. There are many different species of course, successfully cultivated and sold throughout the world. But here in the UK, you’re best and most reliable bet is our common Pleurotus ostreatus. Cook ’em up in a stir fry one night and enjoy – Happy hunting.

Oyster mushrooms

Two separate encounters of the wild ‘shell shaped’ Oyster mushroom. Top: A group of young examples growing on a fallen log. Bottom: Very large and older examples (approx 14-15cm across) growing from a standing trunk.

QUICK ID TABLE: OYSTER MUSHROOM Pleurotus ostreatus

CAP / FLESH

6 – 20cm across. Shell shaped. Convex when young, flattening out. Often split or wavy margin. Subtle variable hues of grey-brown, whitish-brown, blue-grey, violet-grey. Flesh is born or blue-grey.

STEM

2-3cm x 10-20cm. Excentric to lateral or abscent. White with a woolly base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Decurrent. Initially white fading yellowish later.
Spore Print: Pale lilac (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In medium to large clusters on stumps, fallen logs or standing trunks. Mostly deciduous trees such as birch. Sometimes on coniferous wood. All year round.

EDIBILITY

Edible and good.

The Genus PLEUROTUS (Oyster): Characteristics to look out for:

• Shell shaped fruting body with little or no visible stem.
• Growing on wood in clumps/dense groups
• Very decurrent gills.
• Spore print ranges from white to pale lilac.

Tree Hugger – The Toughshank / Spindle-Shank

It’s early June and with the recent inclement weather (or great weather for mushroom hunters!) there are plenty of different species popping up here and there. But after a local visit to a local (mixed woodland) wood, I was quite disappointed with the results. But then again, summer is usually a good mix of grassland and woodland finds. You can’t win or find them all!

Collybia fusipesAfter seeing these chaps again, I felt it was time to feature this common woodland mushroom (which I always see this time of year). As usual, they’ll be hugging the base of an oak, beech or other deciduous tree or stump.

Yes, the Toughshank / Spindle-shank (Collybia fusipes (Gymnopus fusipes)) has always been a reliable show around summer all the way through to early winter time. It can also show it’s face during the late spring months too.

Collybia (or Gymnopus) species* have the common English name of ‘Toughshanks’ for the simple reason that they have very tough, flexible and fibrous stems. In addition to this (or subtraction!) they never have any ring or volva present (see mushroom identification page for more general info).

As mentioned, they often appear at the base of broadleaved trees (especially oak) and grow in dense tufts of a dozen or more. Sometimes they can appear to be growing out of the ground, but they are in fact attached to the nearby host tree via it’s underground roots. I have only seen this a few times and I really don’t know how common that is.

When young, the numerous caps appear button like (between 1 – 3 cm in diametre) and are red/brown in colour with lighter patches here and there. You’ll also notice much darker spots on the surface due to the odd nibble from a bug or minor surface imperfection. When more mature, the cap expands up to 7cm in diametre and fades slightly in colour (see pictures below) especially as it drys out. The texture is very smooth but gooey when moist, or soon after rain.

But the main identification feature of this mushroom (or should I say mushroom group) is that the stem, as we already know, is very fibrous and tough. Just break it apart and you’ll see. It is more ‘swollen’ in the centre where the colour deepens and grows darker brown towards the thinning, tapered base. These stems often fuse together as one. Indeed, this is a common trait in many of the Toughshanks.

The gills are free but may also be attached to the stem ‘decurrently’ only very slightly (see gill attachment details). They are whitish in colour then show a reddish tinge later on.

And just like most common mushrooms that you tend to see over and over again, you’ll find they are usually inedible. Curses! They’re just too tough and spindly for a good meal! Ah well…

Toughshank or Spindleshank mushroom

Note the younger/smaller examples (top right & bottom middle) and the paler/dryer mushroom group (top left/bottom middle). These were all found at the base of oak trees in mixed woodland.

*Note: To date, some members of the Collybia family have been moved to new genera due to DNA research and some may have different names. ‘Collybia fusipes’ still seems to be currently used here and there, but technically speaking it is ‘Gymnopus fusipes

QUICK ID TABLE: SPINDLESHANK / TOUGHSHANK Gymnopus fusipes (Collybia fusipes)

CAP / FLESH

2-7 cm in diametre. Dark red/brown. Dome shaped expanding with age. Paler when dry.

STEM

4-9cm x 0.7-1.5cm. Thicker in middle. Thin and darker at base. Often fused with others.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free or faintly attached. Whiteish – Reddish tinge
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In dense tufts at the base of deciduous trees, mainly oak and beech. Late spring to winter.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Too tough and stringy.

The Genus GYMNOPUS (Toughshanks); COLLYBIA name often still used for some species: Characteristics to look out for:

• Tough, fibrous/flexible stems.
• No ring or volva present.
• Gills often crowded / never decurrent.

Not for your toast – Witches’ Butter

After a pretty unsuccessful local walk looking for the more favourable spring mushrooms I happened to stumble across these ugly little beauties! Any ‘find’ is a bonus anyway, and I was also glad to get some good shots of them too…

It’s common English name is Witches’ Butter (Exidia glandulosa) and is a widespread, common jelly fungus found throughout the year. It is found on dead wood of deciduous trees, usually on fallen branches but also on dead standing wood too.

At first glance, groups of this black jelly fruiting bodies look like scattered blobs of tar on the dead branches and it’s only on closer inspection you notice the finer details.

Exidia glandulosaGenerally 2-4cm in size, they can grow up to 6cm in diametre and are attached to the wood by a very tiny stem that is only noticeable once you have removed them out of situ.

They are often misshapen but usually disc shaped with randomly scattered tiny warts on their smooth, almost felt-like surface. Fruiting bodies often merge together and overlap giving the deceptive appearance of being one big fused mass of black fungi.

The consistency, as you’d expect, is very ‘squishy’ and gelatinous. Soon after wet weather they are more conspicuous and at their most productive. In prolonged, dryer weather they can shrivel up to hard membranous lumps. But fortunately for them, can rehydrate very quickly and hence last all year round.

The only other similar fungus to be found is Exidia plana, also known as Black Witches’ Butter (which is a confusingly similar English name!) and is made up of many smaller cup shaped jelly-like fruiting bodies merging together to give it a ‘brain like’ appearance, spreading up to 30cm in diametre. Very weird indeed, and needless to say, as inedible as our common Witches’ Butter…

Witches Butter fungus Identification

Top: Typical disc shaped Witches’ Butter on a fallen branch and the brown jelly flesh inside. Below: Several fruiting bodies on the same branch, with several fusing together.

Tinder Trotter – The Hoof Funfus

As winter seems to drag on and on, all mushroom foragers seems to be stuck in some kind of ‘no mans land’ of woe and sorrow… Hey ho!

Fomes fomentariusBut many fungi are perennial and more noticeable through the winter months. They’re easier to spot since many trees are bare and no dense foliage can get in your line of sight. And although not edible, they are worth a look. Some have good uses or properties that are quite interesting (probably not everyday use), as you’ll soon discover…

The Hoof Fungus or Tinder Bracket (Fomes fomentarius) is one of these annually persistent sights. This bracket fungus will get most people’s attention as many grow (often in groups) more or less at head height on the host tree (usually birch or beech). They’re also seen on fallen trunks and logs. It’s size is pretty substantial too. Growing up to 25cm in width and height, making it quite hard to miss!

The first thing you will notice is the familiar ‘hoof shape’ with a smooth dark grey upper zone and several layered, concentric zones below. The outer surface (crust) is almost as hard as the wood on which it grows. Go on, give it a tap! The light brown flesh within is very fibrous and quite hard too, smelling very acidic and fruity. A smooth underside shows the small light grey (sometimes light grey/brown) rounded pores, and like the upper concentric zones, the tubes also grow in several layers during the life cycle.

OK, so far this fungus seems to be pretty weird and particularly bland. But here comes the interesting stuff! Over the centuries, this has been a handy piece of nature our ancestors and die-hard survivalists alike have enjoyed to use…

To reconfirm, this bracket fungus is persistent throughout the year and very durable. One key feature is that it does not burn, but simply smolders. A hollowed out Hoof fungus was used to move (or store) burning embers that would keep for days at a time. The other English name ‘Tinder bracket’ is well founded too – When dried, the inner flesh catches a spark quite easily and can burn well – useful as a good ember (see this link for more info). A recent archaeological discovery uncovered a European Iceman who also had a use for this ‘Tinder Bracket’ -See the “Ötzi the Iceman” story here.

The fun doesn’t stop there though! Until relatively recently, a common use in Germany was the craft and creation of hats and bags, using the soft and pliable mycellial core (located inside the top-centre of the fungus). I intend to get a hat myself if they’re still out there, I must!

Just like many other fungi, there are sometimes useful medicinal uses. Centuries ago, Fomes fomentarius was widely used as a styptic to stop bleeding and as a drug to treat wounds. Even today fungi are invaluable in this area. The fascinating world of fungi never ceases to amaze me.

And before I end this post, I’d like to mention that, from general web visitor feedback and personal experience (rather than official research results), I consider this fungus be a ‘common’ species in the UK (more north than south). Several reference books have stated the main habitat to be situated in and around Scotland only, but I have found no end of these throughout Leicestershire and beyond. A recent enquiry to the ‘mushroomdiary.co.uk’ was questioning this very issue with positive ID’s from the Birmingham area. Migration and declination of fungi is a continual event, and local records are sometimes not up to date, and unfortunately there are no records at all from many areas. But on recent personal research, I’ve found that the appearance of this particular fungi is increasing throughout the UK. Which is all good stuff!

Bracket fungus - Tinder Bracket

Note the concentric layers and upper grey touch surface. Bottom picture shows the underside pores. The tubes are formed in several layers during the life-cycle.

White spores of Hoof Fungus

The production of white spores can be seen on the pores in spring (these photos were taken in April). They may also drop onto the surrounding substrate (right). Most other bracket fungi shed brown spores in the autumn months.

Tree slippers – The Giant Polypore

Walking along a woodland path, the adjacent foliage was heavily overgrown. But something still caught the corner of my eye at the base of a large oak tree. At first, I thought people had left some rubbish, considering the size, but as I removed the overgrowth (receiving many lovely nettle stings!) the picture became clearer.

Meripilus giganteusThis was indeed a Giant Polypore (Meripilus giganteus or Polyporus giganteus) occupying a good half of the tree’s circumference. Older parts on one side and younger ‘new’ born’ specimens emerging on the other.

A common mistake would be to confuse this bracket fungus with Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa) but on comparing notes, you’ll realise that these things are just too damn big! And the ones featured here will grow bigger still.

The fruiting bodies of this Polypore branch out in clumps. Each clump shares the same short and chunky stem, at the end of which are numerous fan-shaped caps ranging in size from 40 – 90cm in diametre, but are relatively thin compared to this width. They’re quite tough (but flexible) to prize away from the central stem, so a good sharp knife is in order!

Apart from their large size, the caps have reliable and distinctive markings. Their light brown ‘overall’ colour (which darkens with age) display several concentric, light/dark zones. On closer inspection you’ll see a layer of very fine brown scales. The edges are fanned or rosette-like and slightly grooved.

The Giant Polypore might not be as tasty as Chicken of the Woods but it is edible. It does smell quite nice but can taste quite bitter. But just like the Beefsteak Fungus, there maybe be a cooking preparation method to make this taste alot better. I haven’t tried myself, but it’s worth a go I think.

Keep a look out for these beauties this autumn. They can be found at the base of (mainly) beech or oak trees (or nearby, emerging from the underground roots) and sometimes on stumps. If you do take some samples you’ll notice after time the pores on the underside turn blackish where touched or bruised. Although unsightly, I don’t believe this affects the final taste, if prepared like the Fistulina hepatica for example.

Polyporus giganteus. Giant Polypore

The Giant Polypore – Older specimens appear darker brown (top) while younger ones are a lighter shade (bottom). Note the pure white pores underneath (middle) showing a much younger specimen on the right.

QUICK ID TABLE: GIANT POLYPORE Meripilus giganteus / Polyporus giganteus

FRUITING BODY

50-80cm across. Made up of rosette formations with short stems fusing at a common base. Each of the fan shaped caps range from 10-30cm across / 1-2cm thick. Upper surface concentrically zoned light and darker brown. Covered in fine brown scales; radially grooved. Flesh is white, soft and fibrous.

STEM

See above.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

Late in forming; 3-4mm, sub circular shape. White(ish) bruising blackish.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

At the base of deciduous trees or stumps; mainly beech or oak. Can grow from roots of tree away from trunk appearing indepent of tree.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Can be bitter.

The Genus POLYPORUS & Related (Polypores etc): Characteristics to look out for:

• Nearly all are bracket fungi, but a few are with typical cap and stem but with pores instead of gills underside.
• Usually tough or hard and woody. Some are softer and edible.
• Many are perennial or annual
.

Bulging bracket! – The Birch Polypore

It’s very rare that I do not see one of these bracket fungus when I’m out and about on a forage. They grow quite large and are around all year. It would be hard to miss one.

The Birch Polypore or Razorstrop fungus (Piptoporus betulinus) is an extremely common polypore fungus. As the name suggests, it is found exclusively on birch trees.

At maturity they are typically semicircular or kidney shaped as they grow outwards from the tree body. Shapes and sizes may differ a little but generally this is the norm. As I mentioned earlier, they can grow to a good size – between 20 – 30cm across and 8cm thick! They’re quite a sight to behold when they get to this size.

The colour is that of pure white (when younger) and as it matures it changes to a dull grey or tawny brown. It’s smooth surface often cracks, showing white flesh underneath. The consistency is spongy or slightly rubbery to the touch. These fruiting bodies can usually last from one year into the next, that is why you can see them all of the time over the winter months.

Razorstrop Fungus

Typical semi-circular/kidney shape of the Birch Polypore

On the underside the pored surface is smooth and pure white, but over time this gets marked with dark patches from age and/or insect attack.

I know what you’re thinking though. Is this fungus edible? Well, unfortunately not. It actually smells quite pleasant but it’s taste is quite bitter. It’s a shame, I know.

At least it had it’s uses even as far back as 5,300 years ago! In 1991 “Ötzi the Iceman” (Europe’s oldest natural human mummy) was discovered by German tourists in the Alps. Found in his possession were two species of polypore mushroom. One of which was the Birch Polypore (for medicinal use) which is known to have antibacterial properties. It could have also have been used to sharpen blades or tools – hence the name ‘Razorstrop’.

Polypore fungus

In the images above are some very young Birch Polypores growing out of from the bark of a fallen silver birch tree.

Dry Saddle for the nymph! Dryads Saddle

Well – it’s been the driest spring we’ve had since records began! That probably explains why I haven’t had much luck in finding some good edible spring mushrooms up for offer! But I did stumble across some large edible beauties today – unfortunately I found them too late. They were past their prime and had dried out quite a bit due to old age and the dry weather. Curses!

Large Polypore mushroomEven in this condition, they were still good examples of Dryads Saddle (Cerioporus squamosus / Polyporus squamosus) – a polypore mushroom which can grow quite large indeed as you can see from the photos. All polypores (bracket fungus growing on trees) have ‘pores’ instead of gills where the spores disperse from.

This species is a parasite (and/or Saprotroph which feeds off decaying matter) on deciduous trees such as elm, beech and sycamore causing severe ‘white rot’. They burst into life in late spring/early summer and can be found on stumps as well as living trees growing in clusters or singularly. Although edible, only young specimens are worth taking and don’t really taste that great anyway. Which is a shame because of their ample size even when younger.

Apart from it’s large dimensions (cap up to 60cm accross and stem up to 7cm) other identifiable characteristics are the brown scales which are spread in a semicircular pattern accross the ochre-yellow cap, the flesh of which is relatively thin. As shown in these pictures, once past it’s prime, the mushroom soon deteriorates, becoming very dry (especially helped along by this hot weather!) and infested with insects. Urgh! But nevertheless they are a great site to behold when in a large group.

There are many old folklore stories behind mushrooms describing how they acquired their common names (sometimes several stories from several countries), and this one does not disappoint in originality. The ‘Saddle’ element derives from the shape of the cap which can sometimes resemble a horses saddle. The word Dryad means ‘Tree nymph’ in Greek mythology. I find myself imagining what the Dryads horse looks like!

Cerioporus squamosus

Drying up! Once past their prime, These polypores soon dry up and waste away. How the mighty have fallen!

In contrast to these older specimens, take a look at this very young specimen I found only a few weeks later. This little beauty is only 2 inches long. I left it to grow and I’m guessing it won’t grow that large anyway due to the fact there were older, dying fruit bodies near by – around 4-6 inches in size.

Dryads Saddle - Young

A young Dryads Saddle.

See the extra ID notes below in helping identify this fine mushroom, notably how the stem is blackish towards the base. Hope you find some too soon, this is the season…

ID Notes - Dryads Saddle (Polyporus squamosus)

The Genus POLYPORUS & Related: Characteristics to look out for:

• Nearly all are bracket fungi, but a few are with typical cap and stem but with pores instead of gills underside.
• Usually tough or hard and woody. Some are softer and edible.
• Many are perennial or annual
.

Rare, Medium or Well Done? – Beef Steak Fungus

It’s a comical sight and nice surprise when you first come across an oak tree sticking it’s pinky red tongue out at you! It’s happened to me a few times and I seem to be getting use to it.

This is the common Beef Steak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica) found during late summer and autumn. It’s a parasitic species usually found at the base of oak trees and sometimes horse chestnut. It definitely looks freaky when younger, it’s fleshy protrusion almost exactly mimicking the tongue of an Ox!

The colour initially is pinkish then getting redder and finally brown with age. You must get touchy-feely with a younger specimen because it has a spooky ‘flesh’ like feel, maybe even a little rubbery. The surface even has the warty tongue taste buds on! The pale yellow pores on the underside which age red-brown sometimes leak a blood-red juice. This also adds to the overall wierdness of this critter. Marvellous stuff.

The common ‘Beef Steak’ definition naturally refers to the flesh which resembles raw steak. And I know what your asking, and the answer is no! It doesn’t taste like beef steak. It is edible though but can be quite bitter (younger ones more so). You can simmer it or soak it in milk for a day to help reduce this bitterness. I intend to try it very soon and will hopefully mention in a later post. There is no worry in identification. There’s nothing out there that even gets close to resembling our ‘beefy’!

Beef Steak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica)

A young example of a Beef Steak Fungus resembling a pink-red tongue!

One last snippet of trivia for you – this fungus can cause ‘brown rot’ in the infected tree, which in turn makes for a very sought after kind of timber. In the furniture industry it is named ‘brown oak’ and is in much demand. It is richer brown in colour to normal uninfected oak. Sometimes only slightly infected trees can create a ‘striped’ pattern in the wood – a mixture of light and dark.

The photos shown above are of a young individual. All the other shots I have of previous encounters have been munched to pieces by the local, and very hungry insect mobs. The older the fungus gets, the tougher the consistency. Colour also changes from an orange-red through to a purple-brown.

Older Beef Steak Fungus

As the Red flesh of the Beef Steak Fungus grows older it will be deeper red in colour and may lose some of it’s surface texture due to weather and insect/animal interference.

Anyone for cake? – King Alfreds Cakes

King Alfred was a terrible cook. In fact (but really in legend) while hiding from the Danes, he’d left a whole batch of cakes in the oven. They were suitably burnt and naturally ruined. So I can only guess he went to the woods and scattered them everywhere on dead ash trees to try and cover up his mistake and pass them off as some kind of fungus. Or something!

Cramp Ball fungusKing Alfred’s Cakes (Daldinia concentrica) attach themselves on the dead wood of broad leaved trees, mainly ash and beech. It’s one of those distinctive fungi I see every almost every time I’m out in woodland. Although their season is summer to autumn, the older specimens linger on the wood for years and years.

Their appearance is literally that of some burnt cakes or even lumps of smooth charcoal. Older fruit bodies have a shiny surface, but younger developing fruit bodies are red/brown in colour with a duller surface. If you were to cut one open it would reveal silver/light and black concentrical zones (hence the ‘concentrica’ in the scientific name), very similar to the ring zones of a tree – or at least half a tree (due to their hemispherical shape).

King Alfreds Cakes

Typical black lumps or ball shapes growing on dead logs

Other ‘common’ names for this fungus are Coal Fungus (for obvious reasons) and Cramp Balls because it used in an old folk remedy for night cramps. I think I’d rather have the night cramps!

And as a great bush craft tip, these beauties are great for starting fires! The inner flesh of an old, dry specimen can be lit with a ‘firesteel’ flint for example (or even a magnifying glass). It will slowly smolder, much like your barbecue briquette and can be used to light your tinder.

But needless to say – much like burnt cakes – these fungi are not edible.

Hair raising! – Hairy Stereum

This is one of the common fungus sights around. In fact it is one of the most commonly recorded fungi in Britain. I’m talking of course of the Hairy Stereum or Hairy Curtain Crust (Stereum hirsutum). You’ll find it layered on the dead/fallen wood and stumps of deciduous trees – and it’s appearance is all year round. Shame it’s too tough and leathery to even think about putting in the pan! Damn!

It’s a bracket fungi and has a semicircular shape which is wavy or curtained in appearance. The ‘zoned’ yellow/brown fruiting bodies typically form in many rows, overlapping each other as they go. I think they look quite pretty when in full bloom – especially when there’s a quite a few of them. Each individual cap can grow up to 6 cm in width and can be up to 3mm thick. Older groups of the Hairy Stereum turn green with algae and look like some kind of Martian slime lettuce! (It does!)

So what’s this ‘hairy’ business all about then? Well, on initial viewing you don’t notice, but on closer inspection you can see many hairy tufts along the upper side. And as a bit of extra trivia, hirsutum in latin means hairy. The brighter yellow/orange lower surface, which is smoother, releases the spores. When older, this underside fades to a dull grey/brown.

So to sum up – If you haven’t seen any of these yet – you’re on the wrong planet. And yes – they’re inedible.

Stereum hirsutum - Hairy Stereum - Bracket fungi

Seen all year round – Typical rows of the orange/brown wavy fungus Stereum hirsutum.

Jelly and Ice (no cream) – Jelly Ear or Jews Ear

I’m still out there in the freezing cold, treading on the ice crusted mud and woodland grass in search of any of those winter treats still hanging around on the old dead wood. And I also need a change from mince pies, turkey, wine etc… and pretend I’m losing a few pounds in the process.

I was oJelley Ear Fungus on the side of a treeut in one of the National Forest woods, closest to where I live. It had to be close as I was on the motorbike and had to make the journey short. After all, it was ‘zero’ degrees celcius!

Initially I was looking for any signs of Oyster mushrooms. I know they’re around pretty much all year, but I need to find out more of where that is!

Instead I stumbled across (nearly literally) a modest collection of Jelly Ear (Auricularia auricula-judae) or Jew’s Ear. They are genuinely funky in appearance, and absolutely great to touch, almost like a mixture between silk and rubber! However, it was so cold that some had completely frozen solid with some only half frozen. I quickly took some snaps to show the ice and ear together.

They’re around most of the year and grow on living and dead wood, mainly elder but also with beech and sycamore.

They are edible but not full of flavour. I didn’t pick any of them at this time, but I’m interested to know if anyone has any interesting recipes to use with them. I believe they are used extensively in Chinese cooking – broths and soups etc. generally to add substance rather than for added taste.

Update Feb 2014:
Since I received a recent comment from a blog follower mentioning the health benefits of this particular fungus, I had to check it out. It’s fascinating to see how many vitamins and minerals it possesses. It really is a super food! To see the health benefits of the Jelly Ear, click here.

Jelly Ear Fungas

Jelly Ear feeling the ice cold of January