Interseting Fungi Facts

Simple Button Mushroom

  • Agaricus bisporus goes by many names: the button mushroom, white mushroom, table mushroom and my favorite in French, champignon de Paris (Paris mushroom). The brown strain is called crimini, cremini, baby bella, or Italian mushroom. When the brown strain grows larger and reaches maturity it' called the portobello. Yes, these are all the same species! (See chart above).
  • Of course the Latin name has a special meaning too. Agaricus means "gilled mushroom". Bisporus means that the basidia, the spore-producing structures on the gills, contain two spores instead of the usual four. The picture below is a nice example of normal, four-spored basidia. (By Debivort on Wikipedia. Published under the GNU Free Documentation license.)
  • The button mushroom is a saprotroph, meaning it feeds on dead or dying organic matter. You'll find them in grasslands and fields all over the world.
  • These babies are known to pop up after a rain anytime from spring to fall.
  • While not a famous medicinal mushroom, there is evidence that the simple button can boost the immune system and fight cancer. A 2009 study found that compounds from this mushroom might inhibit cancer cell growth, although they admit further research is needed.
  • The flesh of the button mushroom is white, but will turn a pinkish color upon bruising. Eventually the pink will turn brown. You'll see this if you put a lot of pressure on your mushrooms while handling them.
  • The spore print is a dark brown.
  • The table mushroom is very popular in the United States. It's estimated that the average consumption per person is around 2 lbs per year.

Shiitake Mushrooms

  • Shiitake goes by many different names. The Latin name is Lentinula edodes, although in English they're sometimes known as black forest mushrooms or Chinese black mushrooms. The name shiitake is Japanese, meaning "shii mushroom". (Shii is the Japanese name for a type of evergreen tree on which the mushrooms often grow).
  • Shiitake begin their lives with dark brown to black caps, which become lighter brown and more convex with age. The undersides sport white gills that do not attach to the stem. The spore print is white.
  • The stem (or stipe) of the mushroom is smooth, fibrous, and light brown with no ring. If you damage the stem, it will bruise a deeper brownish color.
  • Shiitake mushrooms grow in the Far East, mainly Japan, China, and Korea. They fruit from spring to late summer or early fall.
  • This species is a true saprotroph, meaning they feed on dead tissue. They like broadleaved trees such as oaks, beeches, and the shii tree (Castanopsis cuspidata).
  • Lentinula edodes is often said to be the most popular gourmet mushroom in the word. It's also one of most widely cultivated mushrooms, second only to the common white button.
  • When exposed to sunlight during the growing process, this mushroom produces high amounts of vitamin D. This could be very helpful for people who don't get out a lot or live in Northern climates.
  • Due to their voracious ability to break down organic material, shiitake mushrooms have strong mycorestoration potential. This type of science is still just emerging, but there is evidence that they can remove various hydrocarbons and toxic metals from the environment.
  • The most successful method of cultivating these mushrooms is on hardwood logs, a process used all over the world. The logs can take a while to start producing, but once they do they often fruit with mushrooms for years! This is a satisfying and fun process that anyone can learn.
  • As with any food, some people are allergic to shiitake fruit bodies or spores. Please only use a little if trying them for the first time, and observe how your body reacts!

Reishi Mushrooms

  • A few species of mushrooms are referred to as "reishi" (includingGanoderma oregonense and Ganoderma tsugae). For this article we'll focus on the most popular form of reishi, Ganoderma lucidum. More about these other species is here.
  • There are six different types of Ganoderma lucidum: red, purple, green, white, yellow, and black. The red mushroom is the most well-studied and is said to possess the most healing properties.
  • Reishi appear shiny and brilliant when wet and dry to a dull, dusty color.
  • All species of Ganoderma are defined as polypores. This means they have no gills on their undersides and release spores through small pores. If you flip a reishi mushroom over you will see the flat, corky area where spores are released.
  • Younger, new growth on the mushroom emerges as a white ring around the outer edge.
  • Originally found in China, Japan, and Korea, reishi now grows on hardwoods throughout the world. They prefer tropical and subtropical climates.
  • Reishi grow on hardwoods such as maple, oaks, and elms. They are very rare to find in the wild so most reishi sold today is cultivated commercially.
  • Most people classify reishi as a saprotroph but some countries (such as Australia) have defined it as a parasite.
  • Most will have a red or brown cap with a roughly oval or kidney shape. However, if carbon dioxide levels are high enough a cap will not form and the mushrooms will display long "antlers" or "fingers" instead.
  • Reishi is a very safe mushroom to take as a supplement. There are no known side effects beyond some possible dry mouth which will go away with occasional breaks in usage. However, like most herbal medications, it's important to stop taking it before having surgery.
  • Reishi is known as ling zhi (mushroom of immortality) in China and mannentake (10,000 year mushroom) in Japan. It is sometimes also referred to as the "herb of spiritual potency."
  • The Japanese government officially lists reishi mushrooms as a cancer treatment.

Cremini Mushrooms

  • Cremini mushrooms strongly resemble the common white button, only with a brown cap. The Latin name for both isAgaricus bisporus.
  • They have a deeper, heartier flavor and firmer texture than white button mushrooms. If you find the white grocery store mushrooms boring or too soft, try substituting cremini.
  • They are saprotrophs, meaning they feed on dead and dying material. You'll find them in fields and grasslands throughout the world.
  • Cremini mushrooms are widely cultivated but there are wild strains. They fruit from late spring to fall.
  • They produce a brown spore print.
  • These are great "learning mushrooms". Easily obtained at the grocery store, dissect them for a mushroom anatomy lesson.
  • If hunting for cremini mushrooms in the wild, be careful not to confuse them with a deadly amanita. Two big differences are that amanitas have a cup, or volva, around the base (cremini do not) and white gills (cremini gills are usually brown).

Oyster Mushrooms

  • The oyster mushroom is a saprotroph, meaning it feeds on dead and decaying matter (mainly wood).
  • They are found on hardwoods throughout the world in the spring and fall.
  • The caps usually range between 5 to 25 cm (2 to 10 inches) and are shaped like a fan or an oyster. The caps are rolled into a convex shape when young and will flatten out and turn up as the mushroom ages. They can be white, yellow, brown, tan, and even pink!
  • They have a unique scent that is often described as sweet like anise or licorice (liquorice).
  • The latin name Pleurotus ostreatus means "sideways oyster", referring to the oyster-like shape of the mushroom.
  • There are a few closely related species that can be hard to distinguish from oysters. Thus it's helpful to bring someone knowledgeable when searching for them in the woods.
  • The mycelia will kill and eat nematodes (small roundworms) and bacteria, making them one of the few carnivorous mushrooms.

Maitake Mushroom

  • The name maitake means "dancing mushroom" in Japanese. It is also known as the "hen of the woods", "sheep's head", "king of mushrooms" (due to its large size), and "cloud mushroom". The latin name is Grifola frondosa, referring to the mythical griffin.
  • The maitake mushroom is a polypore. This means they have no gills on their undersides and release spores through small pores.
  • Grifola frondosa is mainly found at the base of oak trees but will appear under other trees such as maple or elm.
  • They are most common in the Northeastern areas of the United States and Canada. They also exist in hardwood forests in parts of Japan, China, and Europe.
  • Remember where you find maitake mushrooms! They often appear in the same place each year.
  • Maitake mushrooms fruit later in the season. Usually from early September to late October.
  • It is characterized by its layers of caps that are curved like spoons. These layers sprout from a large fist-sized, tuber-like structure located underground.
  • The brain-like folds of caps can grow fairly large. The entire fruit body can be a few feet across and can weigh as much as 40 or 50 pounds (around 18 to 23 kg)! Specimens as large as 100 lbs are said to exist.
  • The caps start out darker when young and fade to a lighter gray or yellow. The edges of the caps often remain a darker color.
  • Most mycologists consider maitake to be a saprotroph. Others classify it as a parasite so this matter is up for debate!

Trametes Versicolor - Turkey Tail Mushroom

  • The Latin name is Trametes versicolor, which means thin (trametes) and many colored (versicolor). In Chinese medicine it is referred to as yun zhi, and the Japanese name is kawaratake.
    • The turkey tail is a polypore mushroom, meaning they release spores through many small holes underneath their caps. Many medicinal mushrooms are polypores.
    • Like so many polypores, these mushrooms are also bracket fungi. They produce fruiting bodies that are shaped like shelves or brackets. These brackets are grouped closely together either horizontally or one on top of another.
    • They are saprotrophs, which means they feed on decaying matter of other living things. This is why you always find them on old, rotting logs.
    • To spot a turkey tail, it's best to look down. You'll usually find them on decaying hardwood or at the base of trees.
    • For other identifying characteristics, know that they have no stem, groups of thin caps with concentric zones of varying colors, and a spore print that ranges from whitish to yellowish.
    • One of the most vivid colors that you'll find on these mushrooms is a bright green. However, this green is usually a ring of green algae rather than an actual color of the mushroom. (I prefer the purple ones myself!)
    • You probably don't need to go far to find one of these multi-colored mushrooms. They're found in forests all over the world from Europe to Asia to the US and Russia.
    • Many people think that the Coriolus versicolor mushroom is a different species. It's not! Coriolus versicolor is just another name for the same turkey tail.
    • Turkey tails are edible, but as they're also very tough and leathery, most people consume them by making a tea.
    • This is a mushroom for all seasons! They're common from spring until fall, and you can sometimes even find them in the winter.

Giant puffballs

  • The latin name for the giant puffball is Calvatia gigantea. An older term, Langermannia gigantea, is no longer used.
  • Giant puffballs are saprotrophs, meaning they feed on dead organic matter. They're more likely found in meadows and grasslands than in the forest. They are always found growing on the ground rather than up in trees.
  • They often re-appear in the same place each year. This has caused some people to suspect they may be mycorrhizal rather than saprotrophic, but this has not been proven.
  • Puffballs are sometimes found in a large circle called a "fairy ring". Check out the page on fairy rings to learn more about this fun phenomenon.
  • These mushrooms fruit in late summer to early fall. Despite their large size this happens quickly. The fruit body will appear in about a week's time.
  • Young giant puffballs have a white, fleshy interior. They become brown and discolored when past their prime and ready to release spores (see the picture below). They are also not edible at this stage.
  • All puffball mushrooms bear spores inside the mushroom rather than through external gills.
  • The exterior of the mushroom will eventually crack to release spores. This process is usually hurried along by weather, animals, and humans.
  • A mature giant puffball contains trillions of spores!
  • There are many types of puffballs but the giant variety are mainly found to the east of the Rocky Mountains. They are spread through the central and eastern United States, Canada, and Europe.
  • Giant puffballs are well named! They typically grow between 10 and 70 cm (around 4 to 27 inches). One of the largest specimens on record was 150 cm (59 inches)!

Chicken of the Woods

  • This mushroom is a polypore, meaning they disperse spores through small pores (holes) on the underside of their caps. You can learn more about poroid mushrooms in this article.
  • The different species of the chicken of the woods mushroom are both saprotrophic (feeding on dead trees), and parasitic (attacking and killing live trees by causing the wood to rot). Whatever their method of feeding, you'll always find them growing on or at the base of a living or dead tree.
  • Chickens are easily recognized by their large clusters of overlapping brackets, and bright yellow-orangish colors. The colors fade as the mushroom grows older.
  • Many polypores are also medicinal mushrooms, although there hasn't been much research done on this one. One study has indicated that it inhibits bacterial growth.
  • Other names are chicken fungus, chicken mushroom, and sulphur shelf. The genus is Laetiporus.
  • There are about twelve species of chicken of the woods in theLaetiporus genus. This article focuses on Laetiporus sulphureus, the species that grows on hardwoods where I live in Eastern North America. You may also hear about these species:
  • Laetiporus cincinnatus (right) - Also found in Eastern North America, although this species is often more reddish.
    Laetiporus conifericola - A yellowish species found in Western North America that often fruits on conifers.
    Laetiporus gilbertsonii - The West Coast version that's found on oaks and eucalyptus trees.