|Major Groups > Polypores|
Polyporales: The Polypores
[ Basidiomycetes . . . ]
by Michael Kuo
The Polyporales form a large group of diverse mushrooms. Most of these are "polypores" in the widely used sense of the word: they are wood decomposers whose spores are held in tubes--rather like the tubes of the boletes, except that with a very few exceptions the tube layer of a polypore cannot be easily removed as a layer, the way it can with a bolete. Aside from the fact that many of them are attractive and interesting mushrooms, polypores are of special interest to humans because they are wood rotters, assisting in the decomposition of dead wood--and, in many cases, causing rot as pathogens on living wood. Thus the appearance of Laetiporus sulphureus on a living tree, for example, probably signifies the beginning of the end for the tree; inspection of the wood would reveal a reddish brown rot of the heart wood, caused by the mushroom's mycelium.
Taxonomically, the polypores are complicated, and not completely understood. Fifty years ago, when L. O. Overholts' thorough study of polypores in North America (1953) was published, nearly all the species of polypores went under the genus name Polyporus. Today, Polyporus is a comparatively small genus, and many separate genera (and families to hold the genera) have been erected. Current DNA studies shift the polypores around on what seems like a daily basis, and a few have been moved out of the polypore order entirely--like Bondarzewia berkeleyi, which is currently placed in the Russulales. See the page on mushroom taxonomy for the most current portrait of polypore taxonomy.
Identification of polypores is not an insurmountable task--with a few exceptions. Careful analysis of the mushroom's macrofeatures is often sufficient to reach a reasonably secure identification decision. The pore surface of a polypore is often distinctive; for example, Daedaleopsis confragosa has a maze-like pore surface, easily distinguished from the pore surfaces of the many polypores with tiny, round pores. Be sure to pay careful attention to the "host" of your polypore, since identification can sometimes hinge on this information. When polypores grow on living trees, this is a matter of identifying the tree. But the more common scenario involves dead wood--in which case one must make assumptions about what kind of dead wood is involved. Notice, at the very least, whether your mushroom grows in conifer woods or among hardwoods. However, if your mushroom is on a very large stump in the midst of a forest full of small trees, it may take some research or guesswork to determine what kind of tree the stump may represent. Other features often important in the identification of polypores include the reaction of the flesh in KOH, and microscopic features.
I highly recommend Tom Volk's polypore primer for more information on the identification of polypores. Volk is a prominent mycologist who has done significant work with the polypores, including co-authoring the species Laetiporus cincinnatus.
Incomplete Key to North American Polypores
I have not yet completed a key to North American polypores, but I have started the ball rolling with a key to the pale-fleshed, stemmed polypores, and a key to the genus Laetiporus.
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Cite this page as:
Kuo, M. (2004, November). Polyporales: The polypores. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/polyporales.html