Phellinus igniarius (L.) Quél. - Willow Bracket

Phylum: Basidiomycota - Class: Agaricomycetes - Order: Polyporales - Family: Hymenochaetaceae

Phellinus igniarius Willow Bracket

You are most likely to come across old, blackened, gnarled and cracked fruitbodies of this bracket (which experts believe is probably a ‘complex’ of several species rather than a single species). That’s because fruitbodies can continue growing for many years, feeding on the remains of the host tree long after it has died. (The picture below, taken in France, shows an aged bracket on a willow stump.) Willows are the preferred victims of this very tough bracket fungus, which looks quite similar to Hoof Fungus Fomes fomentarius.

Phellinus igniarius, Willow Bracket, France

As with nearly all bracket fungi, young fruitbodies are pale and rather undistinguished - see below.

Young fruitbody of Phellinus igniarius

Distribution

Phellinus igniarius is an uncommon find in Britain and Ireland and rather variable in appearance depending on the age of the brackets and the type of host tree. (This kind of bracket occasionally attacks other kinds of hardwood trees, although the various types of large willows are the favoured food source for these white-rot inducing fungi.) Willow Bracket occurs in many countries on mainland Europe,and this species is also recorded in North America.

Taxonomic history

In 1776 Carl Linnaeus described this species, giving it the name Boletus igniarius. It was the French mycologist Lucien Quélet who, in 1886, transferred the Willow Bracket fungus to the genus Phellinus, renaming it as Phellinus igniarius, the scientific name by which it is generally recognised nowadays.

Common synonyms of Phellinus igniarius include Boletus igniarius L., Polyporus igniarius (L.) Fr., Fomes igniarius (L.) Cooke, Fomes trivialis Bres., and Phellinus trivialis (Bres.) Kreisel.

Etymology

In 1886 the genus Phellinus was circumscribed by French mycologist Lucien Quélet; the generic name comes from phell- meaning cork, while the suffix -inus denotes a superlative. The implication, therefore, is that fungi in the genus Phellinus are the most cork-like (the toughest) of them all. The specific epithet igniarius means of or relating to fire (as in ignited). Hence the Willow Bracket's scientific name tells us that it is a very tough, cork-like fungus that looks as though it has been in a fire. Spot on, particularly for older specimens that look as blackened, cracked and charred as... er, charcoal.

Identification guide

Young Willow Brackets on a riverside White Willow

Fruitbody

Upper surface grey on young fruitbodies (see left), turning black and often developing vertical cracks when older; outer margin remaining brown and velvety even on very old fruitbodies; up to 40cm across and as much as 20cm thick; hoof-like and concentrically ridged in annual layers.

The flesh inside these brackets is reddish brown.

Fertile surface of Phellinus igniarius

Tubes and Pores

The tubes are brown, 3 to 5mm deep and spaced at 4 to 6 per mm; they terminate in grey-brown to red-brown pores, sometimes having a purple tinge.

 

Spores

Subspherical, smooth, 5.5-7 x 4.5-6μm; inamyloid.

Spore print

White.

Odour/taste

Not significant.

Habitat & Ecological role

Parasitic and eventually saprobic, restricted to broadleaf (hardwood) trees and most commonly willows (Salix species).

Season

Perennial, releasing spores throughout summer and autumn.

Similar species

Fomes fomentarius is similarly hoof shaped with an overall grey appearance; it attacks mainly birches in Britain and Ireland.

Phellinus igniarius, Willow Bracket, England

Culinary Notes

Phellinus igniarius is a tough inedible fungus - even removing one of these brackets from a tree requires a saw and would consume far more calories that would be obtained if you managed to chew and swallow it. It is unlikely that Willow Bracket contains deadly toxins, because according to Tom Volk for hundreds of years it has been mixed in powder form with tobacco and smoked by Native Indians of north America. We know of no recipes for this rather uncommon bracket fungus.

Reference Sources

Pat O'Reilly (2016) Fascinated by Fungi; First Nature

British Mycological Society (2010). English Names for Fungi

Dictionary of the Fungi; Paul M. Kirk, Paul F. Cannon, David W. Minter and J. A. Stalpers; CABI, 2008

Taxonomic history and synonym information on these pages is drawn from many sources but in particular from the British Mycological Society's GB Checklist of Fungi and (for basidiomycetes) on Kew's Checklist of the British & Irish Basidiomycota.

Acknowledgement

This page includes pictures kindly contributed by David Kelly.

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