Fungus of the month
Distinctive fungi to look for each month
by John Haughton
John is a volunteer with the Corby Woodland Project and Wildlife Trust BCN. He volunteers in the three areas of ancient woodland in Corby, but spends most of his time in King’s Wood close to where he lives. He has led several guided walks for Rockingham Forest Vision, sharing his enthusiasm for fungi. On these pages, as the months went by, he described some of the most significant fungi that you may find in the wooded areas of Rockingham Forest.
November: Dryad's Saddle
My obsession with fungi came about after I took to wandering through King’s Wood Local Nature Reserve back in 2011 and started taking photographs of plants and insects and trying to identify them.
The first fungus I became properly aware of in King’s Wood in July that year was this clump on an ash stump, see the pictures on the right. They were very impressive, the clump being about 60 cm wide in total. I had never seen anything like it. So very different from any fungus to be seen in a supermarket!
This species is relatively easy to identify because there is nothing else quite like it, with its fan-shaped cap. It is most commonly known as the Dryad’s Saddle, but also as the Pheasant's Back. Dryads were fairy-like creatures in Greek mythology who, it is said, could use this mushroom as a saddle; whereas Pheasant's Back derives from the pattern on the bracket having some similarity to feathers on the back of a hen Pheasant.
The Latin name is now Cerioporus squamosus, although when I first saw it, it was Polyporus squamosus and this name is the one most likely to be used in a lot of reference books. The squamosus part of the name comes from Latin and means covered with scales or scaly, referring to the dark brown scales found on the cap of the fungus. The Cerioporus part of this name is fairly recent and has derived from phylogenetic analysis showing that Cerioporus is a separate genus from Polyporus.
This annual bracket fungus is commonly found attached to dead logs and stumps, or on a damaged part of living hardwood trees. The fruiting bodies usually appear twice per year in May - June and September - October, but in 2022 some have been appearing for a third time in November.
The fruiting body can grow into a large fan shaped bracket up to 50cm across with a short tough stem.
A ladder of Dryad's saddles on an Ash
The fungus that started my obsession!
On the underside one can see the white to creamy flesh which is soft, at least in the early stages of growth with pores that are characteristic of the genus Cerioporus; they are made up of tubes packed together closely. The tubes are between 1 mm and 12 mm long. The stalk is thick and short, up to 5 cm long. The fruit body will produce a white spore print. They can be found alone, in clusters of two or three, or forming shelves.
This fungus can be seen on most broadleaf trees but it is most commonly found on Sycamore, Beech, Elm, Lime, Poplar, Willow, Walnut, Ash and Horse Chestnut. In King’s Wood, I have only ever seen it on either Ash or Horse Chestnut. There is one Ash tree in King’s Wood that, twice every year for the past seven years, has had a ‘ladder’ of Dryad’s Saddles growing up its stem.
Very young Dryad’s Saddles growing on a felled Horse Chestnut
The same fungi, 9 days later, when fully grown
December: Small colourful bracket fungi
Because at this time of year there is not much else in the way of fungi to be seen, this is can be quite a good time learn how to tell the difference between a couple of easily confused bracket fungi.
Turkeytail is small bracket polypore (polypore meaning many pores) fungi in the Trametes genus that appears primarily on the dead and decaying wood of deciduous trees - very rarely on conifers - growing as rosettes or dense overlapping tiers on rotting logs and stumps, as in the picture above. The tough nature of the fruit bodies means they can be seen for a couple of months or so, during winter.
The common name Turkeytail, has been suggested to be a fairly recent arrival from America. The Latin name is Trametes versicolor. The common name does describe very well the variegated colours often seen on these fan-shaped brackets. The surface being decorated with concentric rings of varying colours, strongly separated and ranging radically through whites, oranges, reds, browns, blues and blue-greys to almost dense blacks, with the outside edge being pale if not white.
Top surface of a Turkeytail
The key is, as ever with fungi identification, to look beneath. With the Turkeytail, the underside from which the spores are released is covered in rounded pores and is white or cream in colour.
Another fungus that frequently appears on dead hardwood logs and can easily be confused with Trametes versicolor is Stereum subtomentosum, which has the common name of Yellowing Curtain Crust. In America this is commonly known as the False Turkey Tail because the upper surface has rings of colour much like those on a Turkeytail.
The Yellowing Curtain Crust can have zones of colour, orange, brown, red, yellow, and tan. In fresh brackets, the rim is often white. Similarly, to the Turkeytail the colours in the Yellowing Curtain Crust fade over time and older specimens frequently have shades of white and green. The green colour often being due to colonies of algae.
The main difference and way to separate Yellowing Curtain Crust from the Turkeytail is that the Yellowing Curtain Crust has a smooth under surface while the underside of the Turkeytail is covered in tiny pores as we saw above.
Turkeytail - Trametes versicolor
It was previously known in this country as the Multi-zoned Polypore, I have also found a reference to it also have been called the Common Stump Flap in a 1909 book on fungi.
The brackets themselves, which get up to about 10cm in diameter, are thin and the tough interior flesh, if they are torn or cut open, is whitish. As the season progresses, these strikingly coloured brackets might lose some of their vibrancy and detail as the colours tend to fade.
Underside of a Turkeytail showing the pores
Yellowing Curtain Crust - Sterum subtomentosum
Yellowing Curtain Crust - Stereum subtomentosum is a crust fungus, meaning that it does not have pores/gills/teeth or any other modifications to its spore-producing surface. Instead, the fertile surface of the Yellowing Curtain Crust - Stereum subtomentosum is simply smooth. The lower surface has rings of colour similarly to the top, but more muted and much fainter rings. As can be seen in the picture below.
The Yellowing Curtain Crust also tends to stain yellow when is scored or bruised, at least it does when young and fresh. This discolouration is very noticeable at the margin of the bracket, Sterry & Hughes in the ‘Collins Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools’, suggests scratching the edge with a fingernail to trigger the discolouration. This is the reason why Stereum subtomentosum is better known as the Yellowing Curtain Crust in Britain rather than the False Turkeytail.
Upper surface of Yellowing Curtain Brackets
Both the Trametes and Stereum genus contain six or seven species of fungi in Britain.
In the Stereum genus are fungi with common names like Hairy Curtain Crust, Bleeding Oak Crust, Bleeding Conifer Crust and Bleeding Broadleaf Crust as well as the Yellowing Curtain Crust.
In the Trametes genus as well as the Turkeytail there are Lumpy Bracket, Hairy Bracket, Ochre Bracket, Fragrant Bracket and one (Trametes pubescens) which does not have a common name.
The following pictures show firstly a group of Yellowing Curtain Crust with a predominately brown colouring. All the rest are of Turkeytails showing how differently they can present themselves and make use of what they are growing on. The group ‘layered’ on a vertical stick was about 12 inches high, the dead ash tree stump was about 4 feet across with Turkeytails rising up the stump to over 8 feet.
Turkeytail - Trametes versicolor. Circular form on a stick
Turkeytail - Trametes versicolor growing on a stick
Under surface of Yellowing Curtain Brackets
Stereum subtomentosum – Yellowing Curtain Brackets
Turkeytail. Rosette form growing on the top surface of a log
Turkeytail growing up a large dead ash stump