Bracket or shelf mushrooms, a broad group of mushrooms, generally fit into the larger order Polyporales. Knowing basic shelf mushroom identification fills a variety of utilitarian purposes. From a practical point of view, when found on dead trees or stumps, their role as tree decomposes provides ecological utility to the forest environment. On the other hand, their discovery on an otherwise healthy backyard tree could indicate disease and subsequent demise of the tree.
Initial knowledge of Polyporales medicinal benefits grew out of customary folk medicine practices and they continued to be studied by medical professionals around the world.
Finally, because they can be found year round growing on trees and stumps, they can rightfully be considered a mushroom enthusiast’s friend, for being present when many other mushrooms might be out of season.
Their taxonomy continues to change, and currently nine separate families constitute the order, with the family Polyporaceae, or the polypores, anchoring the order.
Most Polyporaceae species are relatively easy to spot during a walk in almost any woodland area because their large size adds an extra dimension to their tree hosts. Additionally, most polypores posses a white bottom composed of multiple pores. Unlike bolete mushrooms, the pores do not readily separate from the mushroom flesh. With hundreds of different species, identification can be problematic. Three identification tips can help start the process.
- Physical Appearance: Tough exteriors define the group. Physical traits such as top color patterns and shapes to bottom spore patterns begin the identification process.
- Spore Test: Note the spore color.
- Host Tree: Polypores can be single species or family host related or multiple family and host related.
Consider the mushroom in the picture. It is a multi shelf mushroom so to speak. It’s on a Maple tree. A close up view of the underside of the mushrooms would show small tooth-like projections.
Those identification clues point to the Northern Tooth Fungus. They grow predominantly on maple trees and birch trees. Seeing one means the tree is already endangered. Northern Tooth Fungus are great at decomposing the heart wood, or live wood at the center of the tree.
Most mushroom enthusiasts identify Polyporaceae with common species such as Chicken of the Woods and Turkey Tails. The picture shows a group of turkey tails (trametes versicolor). One of the most common polypores in forest areas around the world. Its wide distribution makes it an easy find for mushroom enthusiasts more interested in finding culinary fungi than documenting local polypores. Long used as an immune system supplement in folk medicine, the FDA recently funded research into the Turkey Tail’s ability to boost the immune system during cancer treatments.
Dyer’s Bracket, the common name given to the mushroom, Phaeolus schweinitzii, also fits into the family Polyporaceae.
A thick mushroom with a soft fuzzy texture on the top, along with pores on the bottom, it typically grows on the ground (on the root system) with the occasional specimen growing as brackets on the trunk of the tree.
The mushroom in the picture measured approximately nine inches in diameter, making them easy to spot walking through coniferous forests.
Dyer’s bracket comes in a variety of colors that can be used for dying yarn, explaining the common name.
Trees spotted with dyer’s bracket need to be monitored. The mushroom is a natural wood decayer, eating away at the roots or trunk, eventually killing the tree or making it easier for the tree to be felled by wind.
Color separated the Cinnabar Red Polypore from most other common shelf mushrooms. Young specimens have a striking cinnamon to red to orange color that fades over time.
Look for them on a variety of dead trees and stumps.
Newer specimens of Sulphur Shelf or Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are also easy to identify. They have a striking circle of colors on the top. They also grow in bunches, perfect for the mushroom pickers looking for a meal.
They are often associated with oak trees. Finding one on a living oak often means the tree is subject to decay.
Artist’s Conks (Ganoderma applanatum), a large and common bracket mushrooms, belongs to the family, Ganodermataceae. Perennial mushrooms, they grow in layers from season to season, sometimes reaching growth of two feet across. Additionally, they produce massive amounts of spores during their development, with large ones capable of dispersing billions in a single day during their summer and fall growing season.
Color variations are typical across their range, however, most closely resemble the one in the picture, brown on the top and white on the bottom. Unfortunately for the host tree in the picture, the species is a wood decayer. The attached Artist’s Conk is slowly eating away the base of the trunk.
In China, species in the Ganoderma genus go by the name reishi, where they are prized as herbal medicines for addressing a variety of health issues. Checking with your personal physician is always the best course of action when deciding on the use of any herbal supplement. Apart from their medicinal potential, the pores of the Artist’s Conks are sensitive to touch, making them them an artist’s tool. Many folk art masterpieces have been etched on specimens by patient and creative artists.
Inonotus and Coltricia shelf mushroom can grow on the forest floor. The specimen in the picture partialy resembles both. Unsure of ID.
The picture potentially shows the Red-belted Polypore (Fomitopis pinicola). It grows on a variety of both hard wood and soft wood trees across North America. Its white rim with red belt make it stand out.
Turkey Tails belong to the Trametes genus. This mushroom looks similar in form, so guessing a Tramete species.
Unknown polypore mushroom. Maybe the early form of Fomitopsis pinicola, however that’s only an uneducated guess.