Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month for August 1997

This month's fungus is the turkey tail fungus, Trametes versicolor.

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You're missing a beautiful Trametes versicolor picture One of the most common fungi to be found in the woods is Trametes versicolor, the turkey tail fungus. The common name come from the banding pattern on the fruiting bodies that resembles (in miniature, of course) the tail of a strutting turkey. The colors of the bands can be quite variable, depending on the genetics of the organism and its environment. Most of the bands are dark to light brown in color, alternating with light colored bands of white to tan, with still more bands of blue, orange, maroon, and other. The can be strikingly beautiful, and are among the most easily found fungi. The species has a widespread distribution, having been found in nearly every state in the United states and in most other countries. You probably have this fungus where you live! Trametes versicolor covering a stump Trametes versicolor can be a very prolific fruiter, as seen in this 0.5 m tall stump covered with hundreds of fruiting bodies.

Trametes versicolor is a polypore, a member of the Polyporaceae. There are about 100 genera in this family. All of them have pores of some sort on their underside. These pores can be very small, 10 per millimeter, or much larger, up to 2 mm per pore. In all cases the pores serve to increase the surface area for bearing the spores. You may know some other pore-bearing fungi, the boletes, but these are unrelated. Polypores can be easily distinguished from the other common poroid fungi, the boletes, by their typically hard exterior, their usual "non-mushroom" shape, and growth on wood as wood decomposers. In addition the pore layer of boletes can usually be easily peeled off from the flesh (context). Of course there are exceptions. Those darn fungi never seem to follow the rules. See this page for an introductions to polypore identification.

The polypores (and corticioid fungi--those flat crusty fungi you find on the underside of logs and sticks) are important in natural ecosystems as decomposers of wood, recycling the nutrients and minerals in the wood and releasing them over a long period of time--- sometimes several hundred years from a single large down tree--- where they can be used by other forest organisms. In addition to their scientific and ecological interest, some of the species are highly regarded by mycophagists (e.g. Laetiporus sulphureus and Grifola frondosa) and many polypore species can be used as natural dyes for wool (e.g. Phaeolus schweinitzii and Hapalopilus nidulans). In addition, some of these fungi are highly valued by biotechnologists because of their wood-degrading (and especially lignin-degrading) abilities. Trametes versicolor, along with Phanerochaete chrysosporium and Ceriporiopsis subvermispora, is one of the fungi that is being investigated for possible use in biopulping. All these species cause a white rot of wood. That is, the fungus decays the lignin and leaves the cellulose behind . There are also fungi that cause a brown rot, digesting the cellulose and leaving the lignin behind. You can learn more about wood-rotting fungi in my page on Phanerochaete chrysosporium.

You may have learned Trametes versicolor as Polyporus versicolor. At one time nearly every hard, pored fungus was in the genus Polyporus, but gradually more than 100 genera have been split out of once was a very large heterogeneous genus. You'll be glad to know there are still many fungi left in Polyporus, which is now restricted to polypores with more or less central stipes (stems) , causing a white rot, and with a trimitic hyphal system--- i.e. there are three kinds of hyphae in the fruiting bodies. Trametes species cause a white rot, are usually effused-reflexed (jutting out like a shelf from the substrate), and are usually dimitic to trimitic. Someday I'll do a page on characteristics of modern polypore genera.
the false turkey tail, Stereum ostreaThere are many other species of Trametes, some of which are very common, but T. versicolor is the only one with those distinctive brightly colored banding patterns. You can see more images of various Trametes species at my gopher site.

There is also another very common, similar fungus Stereum ostrea, the false turkey tail. From the top the fruiting bodies may appear similar, with a similar banding pattern, but when you turn it over you will see only a flat surface with no pores, as shown on the picture to the left. This is also called the "leather fungus" because of its tough texture.

So now you should be all set to go into the woods and find some turkey tails. They are not perennial, but persist for a long period of time, even overwintering in some cases, so they can be found in almost any season of the year. They can be really beautiful when they're fresh, so check out all the different colors when you're traveling. You'll probably find something you like!

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