For Mushroom Monday this week we bring you Trametes versicolor, also known as the ‘Turkey Tail’ fungus, so named as the banding pattern on this particular fungus resembles that of a wild turkey tail.

Trametes versicolor, the ‘Turkey Tail’ fungus

The Turkey Tail is often found on hardwood logs and stumps, and occasionally on conifer wood. Here the majority of Turkey Tail fungi seem to prefer decaying Tanbark (Lithocarpus densiflorus) and Live Oaks (Quercus agrifolia).

Trametes versicolor is a common polypore species found worldwide

Trametes versicolor is a polypore fungus, and is one of the most common fungi that can be found in North American woods, but is also found worldwide.  Polypores are important decomposers of wood within forest ecosystems.

Trametes versicolor is a polypore fungus. The pores are just visible on the under-surface of this specimen

Pores on the ventral surface of Trametes versicolor (click image to enlarge)

Trametes versicolor is known for its brightly colored banding patterns, and this specimen is perhaps the most vivid colored Turkey Tail I’ve found here to date.  The color of the bands can be somewhat variable (hence the name versicolor), but are generally dark to light brown bands, alternating with lighter white to tan.  Occasional bands of orange, magenta, or blue are seen.

The concentric rings of Trametes versicolor range from white, to tan, to dark brown

Trametes versicolor is often confused with the ‘False Turkey Tail’ fungus seen below (Stereum ostrea or Stereum hirsutum).

Stereum species have a similar banding pattern to Trametes, and are often mis-identified as true Turkey Tail fungi

Stereum species are crust fungi, not polypores.  The principle feature used to distinguish Trametes from Stereum in the field, is that the underside of the ‘False Turkey Tail’ (Stereum) lacks a pore surface.

False Turkey Tails, like this Stereum species, lack pores on the ventral surface (right)

It is important when trying to identify these fungi that you examine the under-surface for the presence of pores.  Otherwise their appearance is similar, including the banding pattern.  The coloration of Stereum however, tends more toward orange, red and green in coloration.  Stereum species are also occasionally parasitized by jelly fungi (see prior post on Tremella aurantia), whereas Trametes generally are not.

Jelly fungi are often associated with Stereum species

Both Trametes and Stereum species often catch a hiker’s eye because both can form extensive colonies on decaying hardwoods.

Colony of Stereum sp. on decaying Tanbark-Oak

Occasionally, both Trametes and Stereum may even be found on the same log together.

A large colony of Trametes versicolor, and Stereum (lower left) both growing on the same stump

Trametes versicolor is too tough to be considered edible.  However, this fungus is proving to be of value medicinally.  Trametes versicolor contains a protein-bound polysaccharide known as Polysaccharide-K (PSK).  PSK, isolated from this fungus, has been shown in clinical studies to have anti-cancer properties, and may prove to be beneficial as an adjuvant treatment to aid in the prevention of recurrence of a range of common cancers [1,2].

The spore print of Trametes versicolor is white, and the brown pigments in this fungus may be extracted and used to dye paper, fabric and wool.

Hopefully, the next time you encounter these fungi in the forest, you’ll be better able to distinguish true Turkey Tail fungi, from False Turkey Tails.

[1] Standish LJ, et al. Trametes versicolor mushroom immune therapy in breast cancer.  J Soc Integr Oncol. 2008 Summer;6(3):122-8.

[2] Hsieh TC, Wu JM.  Cell growth and gene modulatory activities of Yunzhi (Windsor Wunxi) from mushroom Trametes versicolor in androgen-dependent and androgen-insensitive human prostate cancer cells.  Int J Oncol. 2001 Jan;18(1):81-8.