Beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatica)
|Size||Bracket size: 5 – 20 x 5 – 15 cm (2)|
Common in Britain (3).
As the common name suggests, beefsteak fungus is remarkably similar in appearance to raw meat. In the past it was often cooked and eaten as a substitute for meat, and is still sold on French markets today (3). The fruit body is tongue or bracket-shaped, and is reddish-brown to liver colour (3). The flesh is initially whitish yellow, but as the fungus ages, it becomes reddish or pinkish, develops a fleshy soft texture (4), and even gives off a blood-like red juice when cut (3). Spores are released from pores located on the underside of the fruit body. The pores of young specimens are white or yellowish, but as they age they become reddish brown (4).
WARNING: many species of fungus are poisonous or contain chemicals that can cause sickness. Never pick and eat any species of fungus that you cannot positively recognise or are unsure about. Some species are deadly poisonous and can cause death within a few hours if swallowed.
This very common species is widespread in Europe and is also found in eastern North America (3).
Beefsteak fungus is parasitic and typically grows on the bases of the trunks of broad leaved trees (2), with a preference for oak. It also occurs on sweet chestnut (3).
Fungi are neither plants nor animals but belong to their own kingdom. They are unable to produce their own food through the process of photosynthesis, as plants do; instead, they acquire nutrients from living or dead plants, animals, or other fungi, as animals do. In many larger fungi (except lichens) the only visible parts are the fruit bodies, which arise from a largely unseen network of threads called ‘hyphae’. These hyphae permeate the fungus’s food source, which may be soil, leaf litter, rotten wood, dung, and so on, depending on the species, and take up nutrients.
The fruit bodies of beefsteak fungus are present from August to November (3). This parasitic species does not cause the timber of the host to weaken at first, but darkens the wood and produces an attractive pattern known as ‘brown oak’ (4), which is highly valued in cabinet manufacture and for other decorative uses (5). Beefsteak fungus is responsible for the hollowing of many oak trees (4).
This species is not threatened at present.
For more on fungi see: Jordan, M. (1995). The encyclopaedia of fungi of Britain and Europe. David and Charles, London.
For details of fungi conservation in Britain see 'Waxcaps and woodland mushrooms' by Peter Marren. Plant Talk On-line:
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- Fruit body: in fungi, the fruit body is the visible part of the fungus which bears spores (microscopic particles involved in both dispersal and reproduction).
- Parasitic: an organism that derives its food from, and lives in or on, another living organism at the host’s expense.
- Photosynthesis: metabolic process characteristic of plants in which carbon dioxide is broken down, using energy from sunlight absorbed by the green pigment chlorophyll. Organic compounds are made and oxygen is given off as a by-product.
- Spores: microscopic particles involved in both dispersal and reproduction. They comprise a single or group of unspecialised cells and do not contain an embryo, as do seeds.
- National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (September 2003): http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
- Courtecuisse, R. (1999) Collins guide to the mushrooms of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
- Dickinson, C. & Lucas, J. (1979) The encyclopaedia of mushrooms. ORBIS Publishing, London.
- Buczacki, S. (1989) Fungi of Britain and Europe. Collins, London.
- Jordan, M. (1995) The encyclopaedia of fungi of Britain and Europe. David and Charles, London.