Phaeolus schweinitzii is a common polypore that parasitizes conifer trees. Around the bases of its victims, it produces medium-sized to large mushrooms in overlapping rosettes resembling haphazardly stacked dinner plates. The mushrooms are brown and fuzzy in the center and yellow around the edges. P. schweinitzii attacks the roots and lower trunk of older trees, making them more likely to fall in a storm. Although it routinely causes headaches for foresters and homeowners alike, people in the mushroom dyeing community covet this fungus. It dyes wool various shades from bright yellow to dark green, which earned it the common name “the Dyer’s Polypore.” Other common names used for P. schweinitzii are “Velvet-Top Fungus” and “Dyer’s Mazegill” (British).
mushrooms with a polypore morphology
For some reason, the internet lacks a good description of Laetiporus persicinus. I seek to remedy that in this post. Laetiporus persicinus does not resemble Chicken of the Woods (L. sulphureus and allies, FFF#102), despite the fact that they belong to the same genus. Instead, it is closer in appearance to Inonotus hispidus or Phaeolus schweinitzii. To me, the only part of this mushroom that resembles Chicken of the Woods is the way its surface ripples. Laetiporus persicinus, sometimes called the “White Chicken Mushroom” or “Spring Chicken,”1 is a medium to very large fleshy polypore that grows on dead trees and logs. The surface of the mushroom is light orange-brown with tones of red, white, and purple, while the pores underneath are white and instantly stain dark brown when handled.
Fomes fomentarius is the Swiss army knife of the mushroom world: it has a variety of uses that are important in many different contexts. It is used by survivalists, fly fishermen, and even some hat makers. Although it isn’t edible, the mushroom is considered medicinal. Humans have used F. fomentarius for well over 5,000 years (more about that later) and probably much longer than that. The polypore grows from dead or dying trees and is shaped like a slightly irregular horse’s hoof. It has a variety of common names, which is not surprising when you consider its many uses. The two most widely used names are “Tinder Polypore” and “Hoof Fungus.”
Hapalopilus nidulans is small, drab, polypore that most people overlook. However, this humble mushroom is remarkable for two reasons: it is poisonous and it produces a lovely purple dye. It is an uncommon mushroom, which reduces the likelihood of someone eating it but also means people working with mushroom dyes never have enough of it. This mushroom appears on decomposing wood in North America and Europe.
From above, Lenzites betulina looks a lot like the Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor, FFF#065). When you flip the mushroom over, however, it looks completely different. L. betulina has a distinctly gilled spore surface, which easily separates it from nearly every other polypore. A few others do have gills, but L. betulina is the only one with pale gills and pale flesh. This mushroom is usually referred to by its scientific name, but it is sometimes called “the Multicolored Gill Polypore” or “the Birch Mazegill.”
Fistulina hepatica is a very unusual polypore that is easy to recognize: it looks (and somewhat feels) like a large tongue growing from the side of a tree. This edible mushroom is distinctive because of its bizarre pore surface. When young, the pores are little more than multicolored bumps. As the mushroom matures, the pores develop into individual tubes, like a collection of straws. Its unique, meat-like color and texture earned F. hepatica the common names “Beefsteak Fungus” and “Ox Tongue Fungus.”
This otherwise boring polypore has an incredibly strong anise-like odor. Native Americans of the Northern Plains considered this mushroom to have healing and spiritual properties. Haploporus odorus can be found growing on hardwood trees in northern boreal forests. In North America, it prefers the Diamond Willow tree, which gives it the common name “Diamond Willow Fungus.” Another English common name is the “Aniseed Polypore,” which refers to its unique aroma.
Chaga (produced by the fungus Inonotus obliquus) is considered by many to be the most potent medicinal mushroom. Its popularity is on the rise and a quick internet search returns mostly websites offering to sell Chaga or sites touting its medicinal benefits. Chaga purportedly has cancer-fighting properties, stimulates the immune system, reduces inflammation, and prevents aging. The part of the fungus that people use is not quite a mushroom. Instead, it is a sterile conk that looks like a large block of charcoal stuck to a birch tree. This structure can be chopped off the tree, ground up, and steeped in hot water to make a tea. Chaga tea is the usual way to take advantage of the fungus’s medicinal properties.
Phellinus igniarius is probably the most dangerous regularly-consumed mushroom. By itself, the mushroom is pretty much useless. However, many Native American groups discovered that the ashes of igniarius will increase the buzz of chewing tobacco. Today, this practice is particularly widespread among Native Alaskans. Despite attempts by health agencies to discourage this practice, usage rates are still above 50%.
In its mature stage, this mushroom can be nearly impossible to differentiate from numerous other Turkey Tail-like polypores. Fortunately, young Poronidulus conchifer mushrooms produce unmistakable cup-like structures. This structure often looks like a cup fungus or a bird’s nest fungus without the eggs. For that reason, this mushroom is often called the “Little Nest Polypore.”