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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
.

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 (often 10-15ft up the trunk) growing in layered clusters (sometimes singularly). Although edible, only young specimens are worth taking as the texture and taste of the older flesh is unappetising. (See a great simple Dryads Saddle recipe here.

Apart from it’s large dimensions (cap up to 60cm across and stem up to 7cm) other identifiable characteristics are the brown scales which are spread in a semicircular pattern across 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! But nevertheless they are a great site to behold when in a large group like this.

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
.