The Polypores
Wildman Devours his Chicken Mushroom Sculpture

Wildman Devours his Chicken Mushroom Sculpture
(The Oyster Mushroom sculpture is Next.)

photo by Chris Allan

What Are Polypores?

The polypores are among the most common, widespread, and easily identifiable groups of wild mushrooms, with some excellent edible species, and only one poisonous species, Hapalopilus nidulans, which to hard and woody to eat, so this is a great group for new mushroomers to study.

Polypores have three features that, in combination, make them distinct:

1. They nearly all grow on wood, such as trees, logs, stumps, or buried wood. That's because these fungi are either decomposers or parasites, or both.

This does not mean all mushrooms that grow on wood are safe to eat. Other types of mushrooms also grow on wood, and some of them are poisonous.

2. Polypores, sometimes also called bracket fungi, are generally shaped like shelves, not like umbrellas (although some are crust-like). If there's a stem, it's usually short and off-center.

Again, not all mushrooms with off-center stems are safe to eat. Mushrooms other than polypores have off-center stems.

3. Polypores all have many tiny holes, or pores, on the undersides of their caps (polypore means many pores). Microscopic spores emerge from these pores. You can usually see the pores (but not the spores) with the naked eye, but sometimes they're so small, you'll need a magnifying glass or loupe to see them.

This does not mean all mushrooms with pores underneath are safe to eat.

Boletes also have pores under their caps, and some of them are poisonous, but boletes grow on the ground near trees, not on wood, they're much more perishable than polypores (some of the woodier species persist for years), and the layer of tubes that leads to the pores peels off from the rest of the cap easily in boletes, but not in polypores.

Can You Eat Them?

Some polypores, such as the chicken mushroom, hen-of-the-woods, the cauliflower mushroom, the beefsteak mushroom, and the black-staining polypore, are excellent edibles.

Others, like dryad's saddle and Berkeley's polypore, have little flavor when very young, then become too leathery and bitter to eat when they mature. Most mushroom hunters reject them, but I've discovered that you turn the young specimens into excellent edibles if you marinate them overnight, drain, and bake them.

Still other species, such as the birch polypore and the elegant polypore, are way too tough and woody to eat, even though they contain no poison. One woody species, the reishi or ling chi mushroom, makes a valuable tonic tea, good for the immune system, used in China and Japan for centuries.

Beefsteak Mushroom
Beefsteak Mushroom
Berkeley's Polypore
Berkeley's Polypore
Birch Polypore
Birch Polypore
Black-staining Polypore
Stained Glass
Black-staining Polypore Detail
Chicken Mushroom, Sulfur Shelf
Chicken Mushroom
Cinnabar-red Polypore
Cinnabar-red Polypore
Dryad's Saddle
Dryad's Saddle
Elegant Polypore
Elegant Polypore
Hen of the Woods
Reishi Mushroom, Ling Chi
Reishi Mushroom