The Amateur Mycologist #24 - Grifola frondosa - The Hen Of The Woods/The Maitake.
These posts are not for foraging. They are intended for entertainment and intellectual satisfaction only. These posts are not a field guide nor comprehensive in any way - their accuracy is not assured in any way. Do not eat wild mushrooms unless you are a professional, have substantial professional assistance or have a wealth of personal experience with a specific species. Do not make any foraging decisions based on these posts. To do so could be dangerous or life threatening.
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Grifola frondosa - A Mushroom Of Global Fame
You may remember the flamboyant Chicken of the Woods, L.sulphureus and its kin. Well, a little more restrained in its physical appearance, but perhaps even more famous around the world, is G.frondosa.
In the west, it is known as the "Hen of the Woods", perhaps a reference to the relative muteness of its plumage compared to the "rooster" that is L.sulphureus. Or, if you believe Tom Volk, the name might come from a fleeting resemblance to a roosting hen... one which I do not see.
You may also know this mushroom by its Japanese name, Maitake - which may or may not mean "Dancing Mushroom", after the joyful dance mushroom hunters break out in when one of these is found.
Who knows where or why naming conventions take hold. For our purposes this is G.frondosa, and it really is a joy to find.
That photo up top is from wikicommons, but take a look at a slightly older specimen I found in central park.
This guy was a little less robust, and beginning to dry out.
G.frondosa is a fairly straightforward mushroom to identify, with few real lookalikes in North America and a series of easy to recognize macroscopic characteristics.
As we've discussed a few times before, sometimes certain mushrooms have an affinity for a specific species trees, either growing parasitically on them or mycorrhizally in a mutually supportive nutritional arrangement.
In the case of G.frondosa, the affinity with Oak trees can be both an important species identifier, as well as a helpful homing beacon if you go out to hunt G.frondosa.
This colony has set up shop on the butt/roots of an oak tree in central park.
These two florets or rosettes of G.frondosa are several days old
Nonetheless, they continue to be fairly robust, despite a relative paucity of rain.
As I mentioned last week in the first tree health special, G.frondosa is technically a parasitic mushroom. However it is only "weakly" parasitic, to quote multiple sources.
Being a weak parasite doesn't make you a helpful parasite, and G.frondosa is still, technically, a net harm to its host tree. But, as compared to some aggressive tree killers in the Ganoderma or Laetiporus genuses, G.frondosa can live for many years on an infected tree without causing any deleterious signs or symptoms.
Lets get a closer look
Here I've pulled off a frond
G.frondosa grows out from the roots or dead wood, with a tough stem that soon differentiates into a sometimes very wide and tightly packed collection of caps, layered in a floret shape.
The whole structure can get quite large, nearly half a meter in diameter sometimes, as well as quite heavy. If you take a look at the individual caps, you can see they've taken on a darkish tan color with some darkening around the edges. The young mushroom tends to be on the gray side of things, although as always color is variable.
Lets flip that over
All white, small pored surface, with the pore travelling down the length of the cap toward the stem
When the mushroom is younger, the pore surface is often grayer and then whitens with age. It does not bruise when damaged, although you can see the slight yellowing near the bottom.
Take a look at that smooth, tightly packed pore
G.frondosa has a white spore print and, although a spore print is certainly retrievable from a young specimen, this guy was pretty old and pretty dry. I brought home a couple of the moistest caps I could find and left them covered for a couple of days. Nonetheless, I hardly got any spores from them except for a tiny patch of white near one of the edges.
The mushrooms had a very slight mushroomy odor, but only when I tore a cap in half and squished it a bunch, which again is a result of dehydration.
Unfortunately this mushroom was caught before my KOH arrived - still waiting on the application bottles BTW - but it wouldn't have mattered as KOH is non reactive on G.frondosa.
Careful examination easily distinguishes G.frondosa from its only realistic lookalike.
Meripilus sumstinei, or the black staining polypore.
This mushroom grows in similar ecologies as G.frondosa, with similar cap colors. However, M.sumstinei begins life with white gills rather than grayish, and - as its nickname implies - its pore surface bruises and stains black, unlike G.frondosa which does not change color.
G.frondosa is one of the most recognizable mushrooms in the world, and it is probably growing on an oak tree near you as you read this. Get out there and take a look.
Cap = The floret or rosette shape is made up of many small individual caps, colored from gray to light brownish/tan, getting darker and toward the brown side as it ages. Each individual cap can range from 3-13 centimeters across according to kuo, although even smaller is possible and 13 is pretty big. The whole floret can be pretty big, and weigh quite a lot - up to half a meter, based on anecdotes I've heard.
Spore surface = Small pores, smooth to the touch, starting grayish and aging into white - does not bruise when damaged. May stain yellow with age.
Flesh = white, and the color does not change when cut or damaged. More tender when young, tougher and firm when older or dessicated.
Stem ("stipe") = Present, tough, not always central, white with yellow staining. Causes a white butt rot on the tree.
Spore Print = White
Ecology ("How it grows.") = "Lightly" parasitic, usually on oaks in the northeastern Americas. Also saprobic on dead hardwood, also usually oak. Sometimes on oak roots, in which case it could look terrestrial.
Distribution = Definitely abundant in the eastern US - present in other parts of the world as well, including, obvoously, Japan. But i would do local research depending on where you are to confirm. Hide quoted text
- EDITOR'S NOTE: It's worth mentioning here that my last post received a little push back for neglecting to place fungal tree infections in a broader natural context and, as a result, sort of demonizing these parasitic species. Briefly, I'll say now that all of the species I talked about last time, as well as G.frondosa, play important ecological roles in their natural habitats, including the culling and decomposition of old growth trees. My post last Thursday was intended to highlight the outsized effects of these parasitic mushrooms on human designed parks and public spaces, which is perceived as more inherently destructive because of the already limited number of trees involved and the status of those trees as relics of urban delevopment. However, in order to get a better picture of mushrooms and tree health, I will be doing a second dpost expounding upon both the role of parasitic mushrooms in natural growth forests and the amazing interplay between certain trees and their mycorrhizal companions.
THIS POST IS NOT INTENDED FOR FORAGING PURPOSES AND TO USE IT FOR THOSE PURPOSES WOULD BE DANGEROUS. DO NOT HUNT WILD MUSHROOMS WITHOUT RELYING ON A COMBINATION OF PROFESSIONAL FIELD GUIDES, IN PERSON PROFESSIONAL GUIDANCE, OR IN PERSON GUIDANCE BY SOMEONE TRUSTWORTHY WHO HAS COPIOUS LOCAL, SPECIALIZED MUSHROOM HUNTING EXPERIENCE. FAILURE TO DO SO CAN RESULT IN GRIEVOUS PERSONAL HARM OR DEATH.
Photos Are My Own Except: