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February 2012 Featured Mushroom was...

The Northern Tooth: Climacodon septentrionale aka C. septentrionalis

Northern tooth mushroomThe Northern Tooth grows with large overlapping, shelf-like, fan-shaped caps on hardwoods. From a distance they look like shelving polypores but these yellowish-white mushrooms have teeth on the underside instead of pores. The growths can be quite spectacular with clusters of overlapping mushrooms forming a group that can be 18 inches tall, 12 inches wide and with the usually central largest caps extending 4 to 8 inches from the trunk of the tree. The first specimens I found growing on a shagbark hickory were shaped like a football cut in half longitudinally. The clusters sometimes overlap so tightly that I wonder what mechanism spreads the spores of the mushroom as most spores land on the top of the cap immediately below the spore-producing cap.

The individual caps can are fan or oyster-shell shaped, 4 to 10 inches long, 2 to 6 inches wide and ¾ to 2 inches wide. The caps are yellowish white when fresh becoming yellowish brown to brown with age. The spines are from 1/8 inch to ¾ inches long, crowded and dull white aging yellowish. The odor is mild when fresh becoming a rank and ham-like with age. The taste is mild when fresh becoming bitter with age. The habitat is wounds, often quite high up on the trunk, on hardwoods like maple, beech and birch though the specimens I’ve observed for many years grow on a shagbark hickory. The season is July through October, specimens can remain fresh on the trees for weeks. Unfortunately this large toothed mushroom is not edible.

Though technically classed in polyporales, the northern tooth is usually found in guidebooks with other toothed mushrooms like hericiums and hydnums. The main attraction of the Northern Tooth is its sometimes spectacular growth pattern.