Coral tooth (Hericium coralloides)

KingdomFungi
PhylumBasidiomycota
ClassBasidiomycetes
OrderHericiales
FamilyHericiaceae
GenusHericium (5)
SizeDiameter: up to 30 cm (2)

The coral tooth fungus is provisionally classified as Vulnerable in Great Britain (8). Removing fungi without permission could constitute theft under the Theft Act 1968 (1).

The coral tooth fungus (Hericium coralloides) has been described as our most beautiful species of fungus (2). It is a member of the group called 'tooth fungi', because their fruit bodies produce tooth-like spines (6). These spines serve the same function (producing spores) as the more familiar gills found on mushrooms (2). The coral tooth fungus is pale whitish in colour, and has branches from which long, fine spines hang down like icicles (7). When young, the species has a more 'knobbly' appearance and is said to resemble a coral (2).

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.

The coral tooth fungus is uncommon and local in England, occurring in the south and the east (6). It is known from around seven sites in the New Forest (2). It is not known elsewhere in the British Isles and is rare throughout Europe and North America. It is a Red-List species in the UK, Germany, Denmark, Poland, Spain and the Netherlands (4).

The coral tooth fungus is most often found on fallen beech logs, but is occasionally found growing on the dead parts of living trees (2). It seems to favour undisturbed (2) ancient woods (4).

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 (lichens excepted) 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. (5). The coral tooth fungus has a relatively short lifespan because the logs on which it is found often rot after just a few years (2). Remarkably, considering its rarity, this fungus seems to be able to keep other species of fungi at bay and gain sole access to host logs (4).

As yet we do not know enough about the ecology of the coral tooth fungus to understand why it appears to be so rare (6). Possibly it is because the logs on which it lives rot so rapidly that it is difficult for the fungus to find a continuous supply of suitable dead wood. In many woodlands, particularly where they are commercially managed, fallen dead wood is removed (4).

Although the coral tooth fungus is possibly one of our most endangered fungi, it has not been incorporated into the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as a priority species (2). As is the case with most of our threatened fungi, we must discover more about the ecology of this species if we are to be in a position to conserve it (2).

For more information on the conservation the coral tooth fungus and other fungi see:

Information authenticated by Carl Borges of English Nature:
http://www.english-nature.org.uk/ and by Dr Peter Roberts of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew:
http://www.rbgkew.org.uk/

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary ( November 2002)
    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/nhm/index.html
  2. Marren, P. And Dickson, G. (2000) British Tooth fungi and their conservation. British Wildlife, 11: 401-409.
  3. Ing, B. (1992) A provisional red data list of British fungi. Mycologist6: 124 - 128.
  4. English Nature (1998) The wild mushroom pickers code of conduct. English Nature, Peterborough.
  5. Carl Borges (2002) English Nature. Pers. comm.
  6. Pegler, D.N., Roberts, P.J., & Spooner, B.M. (1997) British chanterelles and tooth fungi. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  7. Marren, P. (2001) Waxcaps and woodland mushrooms. Conservation of fungi in Britain and Northern Europe. Plant Talk On-line
    http://www.kak75.dial.pipex.com/Pages/26fungi.html