This section is a quick explanation of some of the identifying characteristics of Sparassis species which fall into the taxonomic family Sparassidaceae.
As with all of these pages, they are NOT intended to be used as a key or diagnostic tool, but a guide of basic identifying characteristics so that you can make informed decisions and easy-access to other, more detailed resources.
S americana can grow to be well over 10lbs, and is described as having 'short and contorted branches' of white to tan color.
Cut, Don't Pull
Unlike most mushrooms, this fruitbody has a thick 'root' anchoring it to the deeply buried organism and pulling that root will discourage later fruiting. Cut at the base and don't pull.
Where to find them
S. americana is often associated with mature oaks and hardwoods but can be found under pines and is usually found from late summer to early winter. Usually you'll see them in the distance, like a pot of egg-noodles that was dumped in the woods.
S. spathulata is our other Eastern Cauliflower mushroom with broad, flat branches.
Photo by: Jeanie Reynolds Gray
Easy to ID
These are a great beginner mushroom for consumption because so few things look like them. This specimen is a bit dry to be 'prime'
Photo by: Alicia Brown
The flavor of Sparassis is very unique and should be showcased, not hidden under overwhelming sauces (unless you have quite a bounty!). There is an almost herbal quality to this meaty fruitbody and it lends itself as a star in soups, especially since it doesn't degrade with boiling.
Hydnopolyporus fimbriatus can take a form that readily resembles Sparassis spathulata. As the name implies, fimbria - fringed - will have fringed edges. The fringes are variable in size and often make for a confusing look-a-like to S. spathulata.
Unlike the relatively 'smooth' Sparassis spp., Hydnopolyporus has broken-pore like teeth on its underside.
Photo by Claudia Littrell
There are several species of Thelephora, which are in the family Thelephoraceae and very taxonomically removed from most other fungi discussed on this website (related more closely to the "blue chanterelle" [Polyozellus multiplex]). The Thelephora photographed here is likely Thelephora vialis. Thelephora are often smaller but can take on the 'pinwheel' like shapes seen with S. spathulata.
Photo by Becca Mahoney
The wrinkled underside of Thelephora spp can take on several dull colors and this genus forms mycorrhizal relationships with hard and softwoods. The fruitbodies are often leathery.
Photo by Becca Mahoney
Please remember to seek other sources for confirmation before consuming any wild mushroom