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A good year for Dryads Saddle – Best Bracket Fungus?

One of the most common bracket fungi found in the UK also happens to be one of the largest. And they’re out in force!

The beautiful Dryad’s Saddle or Pheasant Back Mushroom (Cerioporus squamosus) can put on some dazzling displays. They are often grouped in tiered columns on deciduous trees and stumps. They’re actually a parasite, causing severe white rot. Once the tree is dead they become saprobic and slowly begin to decompose the wood, that’s why you often find them on tree stumps.

This season in particular has been very good for these giant bracket fungus beauties. They fruit in spring and summer (sometimes into early autumn) and going by how many emails I’ve received about them this year, they are in plentiful numbers all over the UK.

Edible?

Oh yes! You can read more about this fascinating fungus on my previous post ‘Dry Saddle for the nymph!‘, albeit the featured specimens there were much older than those shown here, it actually is testament to how big they can get. Here you will also find the link for a simple but delicious recipe I discovered on YouTube. Definitely worth a go. Also check out the Forager Chef – Dryads Saddle, it covers some useful tips for preparation, recipes and preserving. Good stuff.

Dryad’s Saddle Gallery

Some of these great images here were kindly supplied by blog readers (click to view the full image). Many thanks to you all. Happy hunting…

QUICK ID TABLE: DRYAD’S SADDLE Cerioporus squamosus (Polyporus squamosus)

CAP / FLESH

5-60cm across. Fan shaped. Top side is ochre/cream (maturing darker) with darker brown concentric fibrous scales. Flesh up to 4 or 5cm thick. White and succulent when young (tougher and dry when older). Strong ‘mealy’ smell.

STEM

3-10cm x 6cm laterally attached (often off-centre) blackening towards the base.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

Very small (when young) getting larger with age, irregular and angular. White to Ochre/cream
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Parasitic then saprobic on deciduous trees and old stumps.

EDIBILITY

Edible and good when young and fresh.

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

• Nearly all are bracket fungi, but a few are with typical cap and stem. They have pores (holes at the end of tubes in the flesh) instead of gills on the underside.
• Usually tough/leathery or hard and woody (usually softer when young).
• Many are perennial or annual
.

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
.

A Winter Polypore in Spring

Apart from the usual (and culinary preferable) spring mushrooms out there such as the Morels and St.Georges Mushroom, there is still one pretty common woodland mushroom you may come across.

Winter Polypore MushroomThe small and beautifully formed Winter Polypore (Polyporus brumalis) is quite a common winter/spring mushroom which is actually one of the smaller polypores to discover in woods.

Polypore literally means ‘many pores’ due to the holes showing on the underside of the cap. These are the open ends of decurrent tubes growing downwards from the underside of the cap. All members of this genus come in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes, but they consistently feature the typical cap and stem morphology of a regular mushroom with gills.

The common name is quite relevant, as this mushroom has an uncommon fruiting season that typically begins at the end of autumn continuing through to the end of spring. Not many mushrooms last through this seasonal time span.

I often find these mushrooms in small groups on large dead beech branches in early to mid spring. I venture out less in winter so I suspect that’s why I don’t see them often during this time!

The cap flesh is very thin and the surface is nice and smooth. It has an average cap size of around 2-8cm. Its shape is initially convex but matures flatter and appears in various shades of tawny/brown. You may often see concentric zones of light and dark brown on the surface too.

The images here show some slightly older examples. They become much more tough and leathery with age, and the cap edge becomes darker. The relatively large roundish/rectangular pores are initially white, but these too discolour to yellowish-brown over time.

They are very widespread and pretty common, so keep a look out for them this spring. Enjoy.

Polyporus brumalis mushrooms

Fruiting bodies of Polyporus brumalis live on through the winter and spring seasons.

QUICK ID TABLE: WINTER POLYPORE Polyporus brumalis

CAP / FLESH / MILK

2-8 cm across. Variable shades of brown sometimes with concentric light & dark bands. Smooth texture, thin flesh.

STEM

Up to 7cm long. Similar colour to cap. Cylindrical shape, sometimes off centre attachment.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

White when young. Turning tan with age. Roundish or sausage shaped (rectangular).
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On dead hardwood, esp. beech branches. Late autumn through to late spring.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Too tough. Little flesh.

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.
• 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
.