Major Groups > Toothed Mushrooms > Hericium


The Genus Hericium  

[ Basidiomycetes > Russulales > Hericiaceae . . . ]

by Michael Kuo

These wood-loving mushrooms are easily identified to genus by their drooping spines, which hang like little icicles. They have no caps; some of the species hang their spines from branched structures, while one species simply forms a large clump of spines.

Recent molecular biology studies have placed Hericium within the Russulales (it was previously variously disposed in the "Aphyllophorales"), in the family Hericiaceae (see Mushroom Taxonomy for the complete hierarchy). Obviously, there is no traditional morphological distinction one can make that would place Hericium erinaceus and Russula foetentula in the same order while another gilled mushroom--say, Pluteus cervinus--belongs in a different order. To confuse things further, the order Russulales also contains the polypore Bondarzewia berkeleyi and other morphologically diverse mushrooms. One might argue that the spores of Hericium species are amyloid and often minutely roughened, a little like the amyloid, spiny, ornamented spores in Russula or Lactarius. Maybe. But by this logic, Laccaria species would also belong in the Russulales; DNA studies, however, have placed Laccaria in the Agaricales.

I have not seen a DNA study of the individual species within Hericium; as far as I know it remains to be seen whether molecular biology will confirm or reject the division into the four North American species treated below. An extensive cultural study (petri dish "culture," not culture culture) of Hericium mating behavior upheld the four species; see Ginns, below.


Hericium erinaceus

Key to 4 Species of Hericium in North America

1.Fruiting body consisting of one unbranched structure.

1.Mature fruiting body branched.

2.Fruiting body definitely mature.

2.Fruiting body possibly immature; without yellowish or brownish discolorations resulting from age . . . Virtually any North American species of Hericium can look like Hericium erinaceus when immature. The branched species (below) frequently begin as a single clump of spines before developing branches--and while Hericium erinaceus has long spines, its immature spines may be fairly short, causing confusion with the short-spined species (also below).

3.Growing in the Pacific Northwest and northern California, on the dead wood of fir, spruce, hemlock, or Douglas-fir; mature spines about 1 cm long; young fruiting body often with pinkish shades.

3.Not completely as above.

4.Mature spines mostly 1 cm long or shorter; growing from the dead wood of hardwoods; widely distributed.
Hericium coralloides
(formerly H. ramosum)

4.Mature spines mostly longer than 1 cm; growing from the dead wood of hardwoods (occasionally conifers) or from the wounds of living trees; found east of the Great Plains.
Hericium americanum
(formerly H. coralloides)


Ginns, J. (1985). Hericium in North America: cultural characteristics and mating behavior. Canadian Journal of Botany 63: 1551-1563.

Hall, D. & D. E. Stuntz (1971). Pileate Hydnaceae of the Puget Sound area. I. White-spored genera: Auriscalpium, Hericium, Dentinum and Phellodon. Mycologia 63: 1099-1128.

Harrison, K. A. (1973). The genus Hericium in North America. Michigan Botanist 12: 177-194.

Stalpers, J. A. (1996). The aphyllophoraceous fungi--II. Keys to the species of Hericiales. Studies in Mycology 40: 1-185

Cite this page as:

Kuo, M. (2004, November). The genus Hericium. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site:

© MushroomExpert.Com