The pheasant back (Cerioporus squamosus, Polyporus squamosus) is a large, shelf-like mushroom that grows in both Europe and North America. The name reflects that fact that the top of the mushroom, at least when young, has the same color pattern at the back of a female pheasant—to the point that hunters sometimes find themselves carefully stalking a wild mushroom. The other common name, dryad’s saddle, refers to the shape, which suggests a seat for a tree spirit (a dryad). It is also sometimes referred to as “Hawks Wing Mushroom”.
The mushroom is not toxic and has no close look-alikes, toxic or otherwise[i] (there are some very unpalatable and vaguely similar mushrooms[ii]), but many foragers find they do not like the taste. Older specimens also become very tough and corky, though these can still be used for soup stock. It is also possible to make art paper from the mushroom. While no specific health benefits are claimed for this species, edible mushrooms are generally nutritious and low in calories.
Pheasant Back Mushroom Identification and Description
Cap: Shelf-like, flat or depressed in the middle. The flesh is soft when young but becomes very tough with age. The interior is white and does not change color when sliced open. The upper surface is tan or yellowish with scattered dark scales when young, but may age to nearly white, with or without black or red scales or a black center.
Pore surface: White to cream-color, aging to yellowish, with an irregular texture. Does not bruise. The pore surface runs down the stem and can’t be easily separated from the rest of the cap.
Stem: May be attached to the side of the cap or, if attached to the underside, is off-center. Short, thick, solid. White, but with age becomes progressively covered with black fuzz from the base up.
Taste: Mealy or, if properly cooked, lemony.
Spores: Long-ellipsoid and smooth.
Spore color: White
Edibility: Not toxic, but not universally enjoyed.
Habitat: Feeds on dead or living hardwood, with a preference for silver and ash-leafed maples in eastern North America, and for quaking aspen in the west.
Pheasant back[iii] is, broadly speaking, a polypore, though it is an atypical one since it has an annual, not a perennial fruiting body. In the right conditions, however, the fruiting body can last for months on its tree while it ages almost beyond recognition. The mushrooms usually emerge in the spring, though they can come out in any season, even winter. While these mushrooms are often eaten by insects, in good conditions they can persist on the tree for many months, eventually aging to a very different appearance. The mushrooms may be solitary, but can also grow in clusters, always from the side of a tree or stump.
Pheasant Back Mushroom Medicinal Benefits
There are no clinically or science backed benefits for the Pheasant Back Mushroom at this time. Most of it’s benefits are to be considered nutritional as with most mushrooms.
Pheasant Back Dosage
There is no dosage information regarding Pheasant Back Mushroom, if consumed it is generally done so when steeped.
Pheasant Back Side Effects, Safety & Toxicity
Due to a lack of clinical data there is no science based side effects. Caution should be used as like with any wild mushrooms, be aware of lookalikes and allergies.
[i] Roehl, T. (2018). #089: Cerioporus squamosus, the Dryad’s Saddle. Fungus Fact Friday website. Accessed December 8, 2019.
[ii] Rockland-Miller, A. (2011). Dryad’s Saddle. The Mushroom Forager website. Accessed December 8, 2019.
[iii] Kuo, M. (2015). Polyporus squamosus. MushroomExpert.com website. Accessed December 8, 2019.