Turkey Tails In The Woods Near You

Turkey tail fungus at the base of a tree
By Rebecca Roy, Vermont State Parks 
Conservation Education Coordinator 

Fall and winter are wonderful times to look for the world’s most numerous woods growing mushroom, turkey tail fungus. These beautiful mushrooms are versatile and abundant in human cultural history, and in our autumn woods. You can spot turkey tail mushrooms growing on rotting trees just about everywhere trees grow, including these excellent specimens I found recently in Gifford WoodsState Park.

I love it when the names of things in nature describe their appearance. Turkey tail fungus falls in that category because the variety of earthen colors in concentric circles on the mushrooms looks like the colors on turkey tail feathers. The mushrooms, or fruiting body of the fungus looks like a whole bunch of tiny turkey tails growing together in layers on dead and decaying wood. I found these on a standing dead tree, but they are found most often on logs and stumps. Look down while you walk in the woods this time of year and you are sure to spot these beautiful mushrooms.

Turkey tails are polypore mushrooms—which means they release their spores through many small holes in the underside of the mushroom cap. They do not have gills. The underside of the mushroom is white or yellowish, and you can see the small holes for the spores when you look closely. The concentric circles of a variety of colors on top of the mushrooms are a bright spot in the autumn woods. These zones of different colors also have different textures. Some stripes are velvety, some are silky smooth.

Turkey tail fungus fruits in the fall, winter and spring, but the mushrooms are hardy and last a long time in the woods. Crafters use them for centerpieces, jewelry, wreaths, and other creations because they are so long lasting with such pretty colors.   

These mushrooms have been used medicinally for thousands of years in cultures around the world. More recently scientific studies indicate turkey tail fungus is helpful in anti-cancer drug development. These beautiful mushrooms are versatile and abundant in human cultural history, and in our autumn woods. Keep an eye out for them on your next woods walk. 

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