Friday, November 18, 2011

LOOK FOR: Turkey Tails

Photo credit: Coastlander
As we think about the things that we are thankful for in nature, we should all pause to be thankful for mushrooms. Not just because they are yummy, or beautiful -- which many are -- but because they enable us to walk around in the woods in the first place.

After all, imagine a world where every tree that fell over in the forest just stayed there. A few hundred years and it would be an impassible maze of giant Pick-Up Sticks.

No, we should be grateful for the saprobes -- those thankless little mushrooms that eat wood. And what better to single out at Thanksgiving time than the turkey tail? This very common shelf mushroom typically grows on (and eats) logs and stumps, clearing the way for future generations of trees and hikers.

Turkey tails grow in overlapping, semi-circular layers that really can look like the back end of a turkey. The effect is enhanced by stripes of various colors in the grey-to-brown (sometimes to orange) spectrum. (These stripes are the source of the name Trametes versicolor -- thin and multi-colored). The surface is often velvety when fresh. All in all, they're a lovely mushroom -- and all the more eye catching at this time of year when colors are fading in the woods.

Trametes versicolor
Photo credit: lfelliott
Chinese medicine has used turkey tails for centuries, and Western scientists are now studying extracts as cancer treatments. Perhaps one more reason to be thankful for the turkey tail.

In the wild: Turkey tail is extremely common in the woods. There are other common shelf mushrooms that can look very similar to the "true" turkey tail; chief among them is Stereum ostrea, the "false" turkey tail. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty, try Michael Kuo's key.

In your yard: You can order a turkey tail growing kit from Fungi Perfecti. (But, did we mention how common they are?)

turkey tail
Photo credit: Cornell Fungi