Thanksgiving Mushrooms: The Turkey Tail
This Thanksgiving-themed fungus is not a true mushroom but really a polypore. Whereas your typical mushroom emerges from the soil as a stalk topped with a cap sporting gills on its underside, the typical polypore has no stalk, is attached to wood and has pores instead of gills. Polypores also have tough persistent flesh and live for weeks or months instead of hours or days as soft-fleshed mushrooms do.
The one pictured here is not the “true” Turkey Tail fungus (but it was one I could find). True Turkey Tail fungus goes by the name Trametes versicolor. This one is Trametes pubescens, one of many fungi that look kind of like the tail of a turkey. As the scientific names suggest, this turkey tail is a little more fuzzy but a little less colorful than Trametes versicolor.
There are at least 5 species of Trametes reported from Florida. It’s not always easy to tell which one you’ve found, even with a good field guide, because all of these turkey tails are similar in appearance and share a number of features. They can be found any time of the year on dead or dying hardwood trees, like oaks. They have a fan-like shape that extends 1 or 2 inches from the wood and is a few inches wide, but multiple turkey tails may fuse together into large confluent masses. The flesh is thin (maybe ¼ inch) with a pliable, leathery texture. The top of the cap may be smooth or fuzzy and often has rainbow-like zones of contrasting earth-tone colors. What differs, and allows the species of Trametes to be differentiated from each other, is mainly the texture and coloration of the cap surface and the characteristics of the pores on the underside of the cap.
These and other polypores are important decomposers of wood and vital to the cycling of nutrients through forest (and backyard) ecosystems.