June 9, 2010

A Walk in the Woods: Varnished Shelf Mushrooms

The mushroom season is beginning. During my walk yesterday I had a wow! moment when I noticed some gorgeous and wacky shelf mushrooms growing on a tree stump.

They start out as bulbous knobs, varnished a yellow-brown at their base, and then expand into a shelf form. They are like a group of cartoon characters out for a stroll, nodding to passersby, then tipping their hats.

This is what a more mature mushroom looks like, spread out into a fan, though here we have one that seems to have split into two, lying side by side. The top of this mushroom is a very shiny varnish, giving it a warm and juicy glow. It's underside is pure white, with no pores visible.

Here are two more of these beauties emerging from another stump, the top one seeming to be squeezing itself out from behind the bark, a soft, living thing bursting with growth.


  1. Awesome photos! I'd like the top one as fabric print. Are these mushrooms edible?

  2. what an amazing life form. are they wet? surely some creature eats them as a delicacy....?

  3. hi Julie and rappel, aren't these mushrooms photogenic? I hardly had to do anything to get good images. They aren't wet, though they look freshly shellacked. I don't think they're edible for humans, being rather hard, and don't know if any creatures will munch on them. I'm very very conservative about eating wild mushrooms, only gathering chantarelles, which I'm quite sure of.

  4. These are definitely not edible for humans but I think I have found them full of tiny insect larvae.

  5. I have seen shelf mushrooms but rarely this fresh and photogenic! Your "cartoon character" description is very apt for the stages where they are not yet "shelves." What a joy it must be to have such an ever-changing woods nearby.

  6. Thanks for the definitive answer on edibility, Susan.

    and Linda, yes, I feel so lucky to be able to take these walks each day, and though I take the same path it is never boring; there are always small changes, new things to notice. I never feel lonely, having so much life around me.

  7. This is quite a humorous subject Altton - as you ay so well. The second photo down... the one on the left.... what a curious looking specimen.... and the others are so curious.
    The ones at the bottom look like the are moving up the log, trying incredibly hard to pull their little bodies along!

    Its amazing to have these adventures by simply walking outside till something is discovered!

  8. Thanks for posting the pics of various stages of growth! KD

  9. These are Ganoderma tsugae (possibly Ganoderma Lucidum) know as Lingzhi (In Chinese) mushrooms - They are considered the most therapeutic substance on the planet according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

    Dry them, grate or chop them small and simmer for at least 2 hours - Enjoy the "tea" with honey!

    See Youtube for more in depth details & quantities to use.


    1. Sorry, Chris, but in the years since I wrote this post I've identified them as Hemlock Varnished Shelf mushrooms, Ganderma tsugae, not the lucidum. It has some of the medicinal qualities of the Lingzhi, but is not the same.