Wild mushroom literature is obsessed with a few types of mushroom species – usually for their flavour or medicinal value. When it comes to medicinal, none seems to be more prized than the Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor). This polypore mushroom (think pores, not gills, on the underside) is saprotrophic (grows on dead wood) and extracts have been shown to be anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agents.
I haven’t looked at those studies myself and I’m pretty skeptical about claims like this. The excitement for me is not in making a tea and treating some inflammatory issue I might have. The mushrooms themselves apparently aren’t very tasty either. No, I just like the thrill of the case and so this fairly warm weekend I decided to go in-search-of the Turkey Tail mushroom. Long story short, I failed. It’s the dead of winter and maybe not a great time, instead I came across some lookalikes and went about trying to identify them instead.
Exhibit A is below:
To start, this mushroom is not really the right coloring expected of turkey tail – it’s a little too dull. A sample of it dried out pretty quick and turned pretty much grey. The cap was, however, velvety, which apparently is correct. The underside (not shown, sorry 😒) did have a pore like structure and definitely not gills, but the texture was more like fibers or teeth, not pores. This is just not adding up for Turkey Tail but it does seem to match Trichaptum biforme. This fungus has similar ecology to the Turkey Tail, but it’s underside is apparently more tooth like. T. Biforme is also noted to have a purple edge to it but alas this does fade so it’s not surprising it was absent. Another look about elsewhere uncovered this patch below, looking very old and wet and possibly discolored by green algae.
The purple thing did trigger a memory so I looked through some old photographs I had and low and behold in September or October last year I uncovered a mass of these little guys, complete with subtle purple edging. Look below.
So it seems that Trichaptum biforme is common in the Middlesex Fells and is acting as a major decomposer of dead wood in the area. And it survives into the winter quite well. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for Turkey Tail once it’s season comes in though.