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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
.

Disco Eyelashes – The Common Eyelash Fungus

This small and attractive fungus is one of the ‘Discos’ (Disc fungi), an English description for one the groups in the genus of Pyronema (Pyronemataceae family) – but let’s not get too technical, we could be here forever!

Scutellinia scutellataAlthough widespread and common throughout the UK, I very rarely see the Common Eyelash (Scutellinia scutellata) on my travels but then again they can be extremely hard to spot, even with their bright colouring. I discovered these whilst kneeling down examining another fungus. Luckily they were in my line of sight.

They are often found in groups clustered together on rotting wood or soil, most of the time in damp places and sometimes lost amongst moss. They measure around 0.2 – 1cm across, so finding a solitary individual would be very hard indeed.

Apart from the bright orange/red colour and mini disc/shallow cup shape – the main distinctive feature are the tiny fine dark brown/black hairs (up to 20mm in length) on the margin. They look like tiny ‘eyelashes’ all around the edge, hence the English name. Depending on how good your eyesight is, these are just visible with the naked eye and look quite menacing through a lens. Fortunately these fine hairs are not sharp and cannot penetrate the skin.

Many cup shaped fungi have similar growing hairs around their edge and they differ in length and colour etc. Similar species to the Common Eyelash include Scutellinia umbrorum / S. olivascens which share the same colours and environment, but are larger in size (up to 2cm across) and with shorter, less conspicuous hairs.

Their season is late spring to late autumn, so keep a keen eye out and you could get lucky.

Orange Red coloured Disc fungi

Scutellinia scutellata – The Common Eyelash Fungus. Often found in groups on damp rotten wood sometimes amongst moss.