Do you want to know why mushrooms grow on trees, or are you looking to identify a particular species? Here is why, along with several fungi that produce fruiting bodies on tree trunks.
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of various fungi. They grow in environments with plenty of decaying organic matter, many times developing from the fungus that is found under the ground. However, some species of mushrooms grow on dead tree trunks or even on living trees.
Although some fungi only grow on the surface of the bark without harming the tree, others produce significant damage, which can even lead to the death of the plant.
Usually, the mushrooms growing on a tree indicate that the tree is unhealthy and the fungus is already devouring it from inside.
Many times fungi manage to get inside the tree through wounds provoked by grafting, pruning, broken branches, or through any natural or artificial injuries.
The trees may also occasionally suffer root damage due to improper soil or harsh environmental conditions, which will create suitable conditions for a fungus invasion.
Many mushrooms that grow on trees have a different structure and shape than the ones that grow on the ground. Hence, not all look like the typical mushroom composed of a stipe (stem or leg) that supports a cap, under which we find the gills.
By their structure, there are usually three types of mushrooms that develop on living or decaying trees:
- Shelf mushrooms (also known as bracket mushrooms)
- Cap mushrooms
- Jelly mushrooms
The shelf mushrooms (or bracket mushrooms) are woody, fleshy, or leathery fruiting bodies of various fungi that form shelflike structures on trees or fallen logs in wet forests.
The cap mushrooms are those that look like the typical mushrooms that grow above the soil, with a leg that sustains a cap.
The jelly mushrooms are rubbery, seaweed-like mushrooms that can have several different colors and shapes.
To help you identify some of the mushrooms you may find growing on trees, we made a list of several species of these fungi that live on wood.
IMPORTANT: The toxicity of each species of mushroom included in this post was obtained from different sources. This data and the display photos may or may NOT be entirely accurate. The purpose of this article is NOT to advise whether these species of mushrooms are edible or not, but it is intended to list some mushrooms that grow on trees.
Never consume any wild mushrooms unless you are 100% sure they are edible! Just because a mushroom species is labeled as “Non-Toxic” or “Non-Poisonous” in this article doesn’t necessarily mean it is edible and safe for consumption.
- 1. Chicken Of The Woods (Laetiporus Sulphureus)
- 2. Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina Hepatica)
- 3. Hen-of-the-wood (Grifola Frondosa)
- 4. The Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus Ostreatus)
- 5. Lion’s Mane (Hericium Erinaceus)
- 6. Hoof Fungus (Fomes Fomentarius)
- 7. Dryad’s Saddle (Cerioporus Squamosus)
- 8. Northern Tooth (Climacodon Septentrionale)
- 9. Honey Mushroom (Armillaria Mellea)
- 10. Artist’s Bracket (Ganoderma Applanatum)
1. Chicken Of The Woods (Laetiporus Sulphureus)
|Chicken of the woods, Crab-of-the-woods, Sulphur polypore
Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) is a bracket fungus that grows on trees. It is native to North America and Europe. It is also commonly known as crab of the woods, sulphur shelf, or sulphur polypore.
Its common name “chicken of the woods” comes from the fact that this mushroom has a chicken-like flavor when cooked.
It is a saprophyte mushroom and occasionally a weak parasite, causing rot to the duramen of the trees on which it grows.
Chicken of the woods is pretty easy to identify due to its sulfur-yellow to bright orange color and its crowded way of growing on levels in the form of fan-shaped shelves.
It grows on a wide variety of host tree species, primarily deciduous trees but sometimes is also found growing on conifers.
2. Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina Hepatica)
|Ox Tongue, Beefsteak fungus, Tongue mushroom
Beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatica) is a bracket fungus pretty common in Europe, North America, Australia, and parts of Africa. Other popular names for this mushroom are ox tongue or tongue mushroom.
This mushroom has a distinctive look, resembling a large tongue that grows on trees. It has a red-to-brown color, similar to the color of meat, has a rough surface, and releases a red juice when cut.
Fistulina hepatica can grow on both living and dead trees, causing a brown rot to the host trees. Although it can grow on various species of trees, it is most frequently found on oaks and sweet chestnuts.
3. Hen-of-the-wood (Grifola Frondosa)
|Hen-of-the-woods, Ram’s head, Sheep’s head
Hen-of-the-wood (Grifola frondosa) is a mushroom species native to China, Europe, and North America. It is also known as ram’s head or sheep’s head.
Hen-of-the-wood is a weak parasite of tree roots. It grows in large clusters at the base of trees, especially old oaks and maples. It normally grows in the same place for several years.
These clusters of Grifola frondosa consist of numerous grayish-brown caps which are spoon-shaped or curled and have wavy margins.
This mushroom gets its nutrients from the living roots of the host tree. However, although may do some damage, it does not kill the tree like other fungi.
4. The Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus Ostreatus)
|The oyster mushroom, Oyster fungus
The oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) is a species of mushroom frequently seen growing on dying hardwood trees. It can be found in many temperate and subtropical forests throughout the world but it is also grown commercially in many countries.
The common oyster mushroom can grow in many ways, but some species only grow on deciduous trees.
Pleurotus ostreatus is one of the few known carnivorous mushrooms as they can kill and digest nematodes as an additional way to get nitrogen.
The oyster mushroom has a broad cap in the shape of an oyster or fan with inrolled or wavy margins. Its color varies from white to gray or tan to dark brown. It presents white-to-cream gills that descend on the stipe when present.
5. Lion’s Mane (Hericium Erinaceus)
|Lion’s mane, Mountain-priest mushroom, Bearded tooth fungus
Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) is a mushroom species native to North America, Europe, and Asia. It is also known by the common names mountain-priest mushroom or bearded tooth fungus.
Lion’s mane mushroom can either grow on living tree trunks or deadwood. This fungus can live for many years on the same dead tree.
This mushroom has a distinctive look which makes it fairly easy to recognize. Yet, it is sometimes mistaken for other species of mushrooms in the same genus.
The fruit body of Hericium erinaceus is large and has crowded, hanging, spore-producing spines that look similar to a lion’s mane, hence its popular name. They are initially white-to-cream, but can often get a yellow-brown color when aging.
6. Hoof Fungus (Fomes Fomentarius)
|Hoof fungus, Tinder fungus, Ice man fungus
Hoof fungus (Fomes fomentarius) is a fungus native to Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa. It is also popularly known as tinder fungus, tinder conk, ice man fungus, or tinder polypore.
This fungus forms fruit bodies on different species of living trees but continues to live on them even after they die. It is harmful to the host tree, and in time, it causes wood to rot.
Although this mushroom typically grows solitary, occasionally, multiple specimens can be found on the same host tree.
These mushrooms are large and have a shape similar to a horse’s hoof. They are usually brown but can vary in color from silvery grey to almost black.
7. Dryad’s Saddle (Cerioporus Squamosus)
|Dryad’s saddle, Pheasant’s back mushroom
Dryad’s saddle (Cerioporus squamous) is a bracket mushroom, widespread throughout regions of North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. It is also commonly known as pheasant’s back mushroom.
This mushroom usually grows on living hardwood trees, but is also frequently found attached to decaying logs and stumps. It can be found alone, in small groups of two or three mushrooms, or even grow in shelf-like structures.
Cerioporus squamous damages the host tree and causes a white rot in the heartwood.
This mushroom is pretty large, with fan-shaped or semicircular flat or broadly convex caps and a yellow-to-brown color with scales on its upper side.
8. Northern Tooth (Climacodon Septentrionale)
Northern Tooth (Climacodon septentrionale) is a widespread polypore fungus that grows on trees. It is especially common in the northeastern United States.
It usually grows on hardwood trees, but is also sometimes spotted on stumps or recently dead tree trunks.
This mushroom is white-to-cream, massive and consists of crowded layers of shelf-like caps joined at the base. The caps are flat, convex, fan-shaped, and sometimes slightly depressed.
Climacodon septentrionale causes heartwood rot to the tree it lives on.
9. Honey Mushroom (Armillaria Mellea)
|Honey fungus, Honey mushroom, Bootlace fungus, Stump mushroom
Honey mushroom (Armillaria mellea) is a mushroom found in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. It is also commonly known as the honey fungus, bootlace fungus, stump mushroom, and several other names.
Armillaria mellea is typically found growing in dense clusters at the base of living or dead trees, stumps, or emerging from buried decomposing wood.
The honey mushroom is considered both a parasitic and saprophytic mushroom as it can grow parasitically on living trees but also thrive on dead and decaying wood.
This mushroom has a smooth cap that is initially convex but becomes flattened when aging and even dish-shaped, with central dark, hairy scales. The color of the cap is typically yellow-to-brown (or honey-colored).
On the lower surface of the cap, it has white, or pinkish-yellow gills which are attached to the cylindrical stipe.
10. Artist’s Bracket (Ganoderma Applanatum)
|Artist’s bracket, Artist’s conk, Artist’s fungus, Bear bread
Artist’s bracket (Ganoderma applanatum) is a parasitic and saprophytic bracket fungus with a widespread distribution. Some of its other popular names include artist’s conk, artist’s fungus, or bear bread.
This mushroom grows on living and dead trees and can be found single, scattered on the same tree, or in groups.
These mushrooms may persist for several years on the same trunk, growing up to impressive sizes. It can be identified by its rigid, semicircular or fan-shaped, large fruiting body which is initially white but which later gets a dark red-brown color.
Artist’s bracket causes rot of heartwood to the trees it grows on. It is also a wood-decay fungus.
Many species of fungi grow on the trunks of living or dead trees, on stumps, or on decaying wood.
When growing on living trees, most of these fungi feed on nutrients needed for the tree’s growth, leading to slow development, stunted growth, or the occurrence of various rots in the heartwood. In some cases, this is enough to lead to the death of the infected trees.
Fungi usually attack trees as a result of various natural or man-made wounds. Although not all fungi are as destructive, when you see mushrooms growing on a tree, this may be already a sign that the fungus is already consuming it from the inside. There is often little you can do to save the infected tree.
In this article, we have presented several species of fungi that infect trees and produce fruiting bodies that grow on trees. We hope this information helps you identify more easily the mushrooms you find growing on various trees in the wild or on fruit trees at home.