Documenting Diversity at the Katharine Ordway Natural History Study Area
Trametes versicolor, the Turkey Tail fungus
Common names: the Turkey Tail fungus or the Turkey Tail, Cloud mushroom, PSK, PSP, yun zhi,
Former names: Coriolus versicolor, and Polyporus versicolor
Fungi can generally be identified based on the
length or presence of a stalk, the shape, size and color of their cup,
and the traits of their gills or pores. In the case of the Turkey Tail
fungus, there is no stalk present, only a cup that attaches directly to
the tree or log on which it lives. The cup is concave in shape and up
to 4 inches wide. In the case of my specimen the conk (the visible
fanned part, it would be called a mushroom in a fungus with
gills) was approximately 2 inches in diameter. It has a series of
multicolored stripes across the conk ranging from white, to brown, to
red to purple, although the specimens that I found were primarily brown
and white. The darker stripes on a Turkey Tail are covered in very
small hairs that can be seen clearly with a dissecting microscope,
these hairy sections can help separate the Turkey Tail from similar
fungi. Its texture is also very tough and leathery compared with many
other fungi which have more delicate skins. The Turkey Tail fungus does
not have gills, but rather pores, which sets it apart from many other
common fungi. The pores can be seen very clearly through a dissecting
The family that the Turkey Tail belongs to, the
polypores, all have these tiny structures on the underside of their .
Each of these pores holds spores that the fungus uses for reproduction
much like the gills that are found in most other mushrooms. These pores
are an excellent way to tell the difference between Trametes versicolor
and Stereum ostrea, the False Turkey Tail fungus.
In this picture taken with a camera mounted to a dissecting microscope
the many tiny pores found on the underside of the Turkey Tail's conk
can be seen.
The Turkey Tail fungus is a very common mushroom in
North American woods, generally found on fallen logs or tree stumps
year round, although they can also be found on living trees. They can
live on over 70 different genera of hardwood trees and several conifers
in the United States. Organisms that obtain nutrients from decomposing
matter, like the Trametes versicolor are called saprotrophic organisms.
More precisely, the Turkey Tail fungus breaks down the dead wood of a
tree, using it as nutrients for itself while helping clear the forest
for new growth. Because Turkey Tails consume the lignin in wood faster
than the cellulose, they are said to create white rot, which
tends to be white and stringy. An organism that degrades cellulose more
quickly creates red rot.
The Turkey Tail specimen that I collected came off of a fallen birch
tree lying on the forest floor in Macalester College's Katharine Ordway
Natural History Study Area.
The life cycle of a polypore fungus, like Trametes
versicolor, begins when the haploid spores are blown by the wind
away from the pores. These spores hopefully land in an area with
favorable conditions and begin to grow. This haploid spore grows in to
a germling, hopefully in close proximity to another germling. The two
young fungi fuse their hyphae and mix their cell contents in a stage of
the life cycle that is called plasmogamy. Each of the cells within each
of the original germlings should now contain two different nuclei that
are unfused, the fungus stays in this dikaryotic state for most of its
life. As the fungus develops, it will eventually produce a fruitbody,
which is the conk of the polypore fungus. The underside of the conk
holds the pore surface, which is covered in tiny tubes (There are 2 to
5 tubes per millimeter on a Turkey Tail fungus) lined with basidia.
Basidia are cells that carry out karyogamy or the fusion of the nuclei
in the fungus' dikaryotic cells, meiosis, which is the splitting of
these diploid cells in to four haploid cells, and finally the
production of spores. Spores are simply haploid cells produced through
meiosis that have a coating that will allow them to germinate when they
land on an appropriate surface. Spores that are produced by basidia are
called basidiospores. After they are produced they are pushed out of
the basidia and carried by the wind to begin the cycle again.
The Turkey Tail fungus is often listed as being one
of the most common fungi in North American woods. One website even
says, “If you cannot find these you may need to consider visiting an
eye doctor or giving up mushroom collecting.” (Spahr) These fungi grow
in wet, shady areas in temperate forests in Asia, North America and
Europe and are quite common across all three continents.
The specimen was collected off of a birch branch on
the floor of an oak woodland at the Katharine Ordway Natural History
Study Area in Inver Grove Heights Minnesota. The branch was surrounded
by leaf litter and many of the small purple flowers that can be seen in
the photograph. The ground was wet due to recent rain, and the log was
soaked through with water and almost spongy in texture.
Kuo, Michael. MushroomExpert.Com. “Trametes versicolor: The
Lincoff, Gary H. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American
Mushrooms. National Audubon Society. Alfred A.
Spahr, David. Mushroom-Collecting.com. 2009 <http://mushroom- collecting.com/mushroomturkey.html>
Volk, Thomas J. TomVolkFungi.net. “Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month for
August 1997.” 1997
Compiled by Anna Hardin.
Biodiversity & Evolution (BIOL 270) Professr Sarah Boyer. Spring 2010
Specimen collected at Macalester College’s Katharine Ordway Natural History Study Area on April 15, 2010.