Polyporous squamosus

Description

This species is a member of the "polypore" group, meaning (unlike the gilled or toothed fungi) its fertile surface is covered in pores. Boletes also have pores, but are distinct from the polypores in having a central stalk and a fleshy (pillowy) cap whose tube layer separates easily from the cap flesh.

Cap
Semi-circular to fan-shaped, upper surface tan to brown, breaking into darker brown scales and fibers in a more or less radial arrangement. Mature specimens range from 5-48cm across, usually 14-28cm. Very early growth stages resemble small swollen cylinders with shingle-type scales on the top.
Pores
Small to large, angular, decurrent down the stalk. White to cream in color, no bruising reaction.
Flesh
White. Initially tender, growing tough with age, especially towards stalk. Interestingly, the texture change is explained by the hyphal system: P. squamosus is a dimictic-binding (= tough!) species, but, lucky for us, the binding hyphae develop relatively late in age. Younger specimens are monomictic, having only the tender, inflated, generative hyphae (Webster and Weber 2007).
Stalk
Lateral; initially white with brown reticulation but growing distinctly black with age.
Odor
Distinct, non-mushroomy. When fresh, resembles a mixture of cucumber, watermelon-rind, and bleach. Becomes yeasty smelling (like bread dough) with time.
Taste (uncooked)
Fresh and watery, like cucumber, with very unpleasant after-taste.
Taste (cooked)
Pleasant and flavorful.

Season

P. squamosus is one of the first fungi to make its appearance in this region, fruiting during morel season (late April to late May) and again in mid August through September. We have seen it as early as April 28th and as late as September 29th.

Habitat and Ecology

Tree-wound parasite of hardwoods, causing white-rot. Mycelium persists on cut stumps, logs, and snags, producing fruiting bodies successively for several years. In cases where the tree is still identifiable, we find it most frequently on old or dead hackberry, box-elder, and elm. We occasionally see it on willow, and it is also known to occur on sycamore and beech. Grows singly or, more often, in overlapping clusters of two or three.

Edibility

Interestingly, there seems to be some "confusion" in the literature regarding the excellence of this species. Arora (1986) calls it "mediocre, at best," Kuo (2007) considers it "mealy," and Huffman et al. (2008) actually lists it as "not edible," due to toughness. Our opinion more closely follows Fisher and Bessette (1992), who describe it as a "hefty consolation prize for the unsuccessful morel hunter." Prize it is! We consider it on par with morels in flavor (seriously!) and (at least in this area) far more convenient and readily available. It is ubiquitous, easy to spot, and (like all good polypores) when you find it, you find a lot! Regarding the toughness, SELECTIVITY is definitely in order, but, again, the abundance of this fungus makes it easy to be choosy! See cooking techniques.

Cooking techniques

BE SELECTIVE, both with the specimen and the parts used. The size of the fruiting-body, in and of itself, is an innaccurate measure of tenderness. Some small specimens are extremely tough, while some large ones can be almost entirely tender. We limit our picking to fresh specimens whose flesh breaks easily (as opposed to bending). The very young (poreless) cylinders are delicious, but small, and more difficult for beginners to be sure of the classentification. The ideal specimens are those whose pore-size approaches zero as you move towards the cap margin, indicating that the flesh it still in growth mode and will be of excellent consistency. On the cutting board, start cutting at the outer margin and work your way (radially) towards the stalk. Slice as thinnly as possible, and stop as soon as the flesh becomes somewhat difficult to cut. The remaining material can be reserved for flavorful broth (Fisher and Bessette 1992) or "planted" back in the forest.

We've found this fungus has very pleasant texture when slow-cooked in a curry or sauce (as opposed to fried).

Simple Thai Curry Recipe:

  1. Heat coconut milk
  2. Add fresh garlic, curry powder or paste, and sliced mushrooms
  3. Cook ~30 minutes.
  4. Add herbs, greens, etc.
  5. Cook a little longer, serve with rice

References

Arora, D. 1986. Mushrooms Demystified, 2nd ed. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA. 959p.

Fischer, D. W. and A. E. Bessette. 1992. Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America: A Field-to-Kitchen Guide, University of Texas Press, Austin, TX. 254p.

Huffman, D. M., L. H. Tiffany, G. Knaphus, and R. A. Healy. 2008. Mushrooms and Other Fungi of the Midcontinental United States, 2nd ed. Iowa University Press, Iowa City, IA. 384p.

Kuo, M. 2004, November. Polyporus squamosus. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/polyporus_squamosus.html

Webster, J. and R. Weber. 2007. Introduction to fungi, 3rd ed. Cambridge University Press, New York. 841 p.

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