I spotted a Hericium today growing on an oak log alongside a well used trail. Because there are so many different common names for Hericiums (Comb Tooth, Bear’s Head Tooth, Bearded Tooth, Lion’s Mane, Pom Pom, Hedgehog, Bearded Hedgehog . . .), I tend to use the scientific genus name alone when talking about all of them. This particular one, to be precise, was Hericium coralloides or Comb Tooth.
An oak tree had fallen across the path sometime in the last few years and had been cut up and cleared to the side. On the opposite end of the log there was another mushroom of the same type and size, but unfortunately both specimens were far past their prime.
The genus Hericium includes several species of fungus all rated as choice edibles by the Audubon Society Field Guide to North America Mushrooms. “Like other Hericium species,” the guide notes of H. coralloides, “it is a very good edible when young.” Once it begins to turn brown the window of opportunity has passed and it’s not worth harvesting. And certainly not when it looks like the one in the photo above.
The Comb Tooth, previously called H. ramosum, was recently renamed H. coralloides. The new name fittingly reflects the mushroom’s coral-like branching growth structure, which distinguishes it from other species. Two types of Hericium grow on Coast Live Oak trees in Santa Barbara County and the surrounding region. Apart from H. Coralloides, there is also H. erinaceus.
Right after I found the two H. coralloides, for some reason, I had a good feeling that I was going to find more. And not more than a minute after I stood and began slowly walking away from my first find I looked up to see a nice sized H. erinaceus growing, characteristically, in an old wound on a tall oak tree.
While H. coralloides grows on dead and decaying Coast Live Oak wood, H. erinaceus grows on living oak trees and is found in old wounds or where the bark has separated to reveal the wood underneath.
As with most other mushrooms, look for Hericiums after the rainy season dumps the first good drenching on the land. Typically H. erinaceus needs a decent amount of rainfall to trigger its growth, because it tends to grow in the wounds of trees which are often on the undersides of large branches and in areas otherwise shadowed from the rain.
This season I have been late to the scene of every Hericium I’ve found. Unlike chanterelles, they do not grow together in large numbers, which makes harvesting them more challenging. Finding a chanterelle grow site typically ensures an abundant harvest of many mushrooms often times measured by the score, whereas coming across a Hericium site means finding a single mushroom.
I have known about several sites for a number of years, but I never made it a priority this season to drive or hike miles just to check on one Hericium. However, because they do indeed grow in the same spot year after year, I’ll have the opportunity next season to return in time to harvest them. Below are some photos of H. erinaceus that I’ve taken during the last couple of months.