Fungi are one of the most mysterious things in nature, and there are about 11,000 named mushroom species in North America alone. You can find these fungi growing on the forest floor, and there are also mushrooms that grow on trees, whether dead or still alive. In this article, we’ll look at pictures of the species you might find growing on trees in North America, and learn a little about these interesting specimens.
12 Mushrooms that grow on trees
1. Oyster Mushrooms
Scientific name: Pleurotus ostreatus
In North America, people commonly encounter oyster mushrooms, which are widely cultivated and highly sought after for their delicious taste and culinary versatility. They grow in temperate and subtropical forests, specifically on deciduous trees and beech trees, where they serve as the primary decomposers.
The appearance of oyster mushrooms is easily recognizable due to their whitish-yellow funnel-shaped caps and white flesh. In addition to its oyster-like appearance, people describe it as having a delicate seafood flavor, contributing to its popularity as a sought-after ingredient in a wide range of dishes.
2. Artist’s conk
Scientific name: Ganoderma applanatum
The Artist’s conk grows within the wood of both living and dead trees. Plate-shaped, they have a dark top with light bottom. They get their name because you can actually “draw” on the bottom of them. By scratching the the white surface on the underside of the mushroom, dark brown tissue underneath is revealed and the resulting dark lines become permanent. Native people could use this to leave each other messages and directional information, while today some artists sketch intricate scenes and sell the mushroom as an art piece. For some trees these mushrooms may cause rot of the heartwood, but in others, especially in very moist environments, they may not be of particular harm to the tree.
3. Lion’s mane
Scientific name: Hericium erinaceus
One of the mushrooms that has been used for its medicinal properties is lion’s mane. You might find them in forests with many dead hardwoods like oak, walnut, beech, maple, and sycamore trees because they like to grow on these types of trees. This species is easily recognized by the white, shaggy spines that hang from its body, giving it the appearance of a lion’s mane and inspiring the name.
The flavor of a young lion’s mane is said to be similar to that of oysters, making it a popular culinary ingredient. In herbal medicine it is also sometimes used to aid in managing mild symptoms of depression and anxiety.
4. Honey mushroom
Scientific name: Armillaria mellea
Honey mushrooms are a species of mushroom that got their name from the color of their caps, a light golden-amber like honey. They can be consumed, but some people are intolerant to them so extreme caution should be used. These species grow in groups in both living and dead trees in temperate regions, preferably in the roots and stumps.
As a result, they frequently cause Armillaria root rot in trees, resulting in slowed development, discolored leaves, branch dieback, and even tree death. The mushrooms also emit a glow at night, creating a glowing greenish light.
5. Birch Polypore
Scientific name: Fomitopsis betulina
Birch polypores are species that typically only attach themselves to birch trees. Their caps can range in color from whitish to brownish and are rounded, smooth, and leathery.
It parasitically affects the birch trees to which it attaches, resulting in the development of brown rot and ultimately leading to the trees’ death. It’s also not edible because eating them would be similar to eating styrofoam, but because of their immune-boosting properties, they are frequently used in tea.
6. Chicken of the woods
Scientific name: Laetiporus sulphureus
You’ll find chicken of the woods, also known as the sulfur shelf, growing on wound sites or at the base of dead or dying hardwood trees, particularly oak, cherry, or beech. It may also cause brown cubical rot in infected trees, as it acts as a weak parasite.
They tend to grow in groups, and you can spot them by the thick, overlapping brackets that range in color from bright orange to sulfur yellow. It has been described as having a mild chicken-like flavor and a consistency similar to chicken meat.
7. Dyer’s polypore
Scientific name: Phaeolus schweinitzii
The name “Dyer’s polypore” refers to a species with yellowish-brown flesh that darkens to reddish-brown with age and can be used as a dye for yarn in a range of colors. Because of its ability to attack and cause butt rot on conifers, such as Douglas-fir, spruce, fir, hemlock, pine, and larch, it’s a fungal plant pathogen that’s well-known among many foresters.
8. Beefsteak fungus
Scientific name: Fistulina hepatica
Beefsteak fungus, which is widespread and fairly common throughout Britain and Ireland, can also be found in some areas of North America. The species earned its name due to its striking resemblance to raw meat, as it begins with a captivating pinkish-red hue and gradually transitions into a rich reddish-brown shade as it reaches maturity. Although some people consider them edible, it’s still important to soak them overnight because their juice has the potential to cause gastric upset.
9. Crown coral mushroom
Scientific name: Artomyces pyxidatus
The crown coral mushroom is another edible species of fungus that grows on trees. It got its name from its resemblance to corals with crown-shaped tips, and you’ll likely observe them thriving in places with oaks and mossy decaying logs, as they inhabit dead and dying wood.
People often confuse Ramaria with crown corals, but the key distinction between the two lies in where they grow. Ramarias exclusively emerge from the ground, whereas crown corals only grow on trees.
10. Hen of the woods
Scientific name: Grifola frondosa
You’ll find hen of the woods mushrooms in northern temperate forests, specifically on dead or dying trees or stumps, typically located around their base. They form clusters and can be identified by their brown frilly brackets, which resemble the brown feathers of hens, hence the name. People seek out hen of the woods mushrooms because they have a delicious flavor that’s both nutty and has a meaty texture.
11. Velvet shank
Scientific name: Flammulina velutipes
If you come across a cluster of orange mushrooms growing in the decaying wood of deciduous trees, you have likely stumbled upon velvet shanks. These have what most people think of as a classic mushroom shape, with a stem and cap that is smooth on the top and gilled on the bottom. The stems are tough and are often discarded, while the tops are used in soups and other dishes.
12. Turkey tail
Scientific name: Trametes versicolor
The turkey tail mushroom, which you can find year-round on both living trees and fallen logs or tree stumps, is highly prevalent in the woods of North America. They are banded and can have multiple colors, most commonly gray or brown, and their flesh is white and edible.
However, not everyone may find them edible due to their tough and leathery texture. People also consume turkey tails as a tea said to benefit energy and vitality. The striped coloration of the scales resembles the striping found on the tail feathers of wild turkeys.