Phellodon niger (Fr.) P. Karst. - Black Tooth

Phylum: Basidiomycota - Class: Agaricomycetes - Order: Thelephorales - Family: Bankeraceae

Phellodon niger

This tough hydnoid (toothed) fungus could easily be mistaken for the charred end of a post standing slightly proud of the forest surface. Black Tooth is its common name, but don't be fooled: the teeth on the underside of the caps are not black but a pallid blue-grey when young and mid Gray later.

If asked to give this fungus a more descriptive common name I would suggest that the Charcoal Hedgehog is quite an appropriate label for this spiny species of pine woodlands.

Phellodon niger, southern England

Distribution

Phellodon niger is a rare find in Britain and Ireland but a more frequent sight in parts of southern Europe. This species is also recorded in North America.

Phellodon niger with blue tones

Taxonomic history

In 1815 the great Swedish mycologist Elias Magnus Fries described this species, giving it the name Hydnum nigrum. In 1881 Finnish mycologist Petter Adolf Karsten (1834 - 1917) transferred the Black Tooth fungus to the genus Phellodon, renaming it as Phellodon niger.

Common synonyms of Phellodon niger include Hydnum nigrum Fr., and Hydnellum nigrum (Fr.) P. Karst.

Phellodon niger is the type species of the genus Phellodon, in which there are currently only five species recorded in Britain.

Black Tooth Phellodon niger, Algarve, Portugal

Etymology

In 1881 the genus Phellodon was circumscribed by Finnish mycologist Petter Karsten; the generic name comes from phell-meaning cork, and -don meaning tooth. This is indeed a tough, cork-like tooth fungus. The specific epithet niger means black, of course.

Identification guide

Cap of Phellodon niger

Cap

Flat topped or occasionally with a shallow depression, the upper surface is blue-black becoming black, retaining a white rim. The cap surface is rough, often gnarled and pitted, and most often concentrically zoned with a sharp, slightly striate margin. Ranging from 3 to 8cm across, larger specimens tend to have lobed and wavy margins.

Fruitbodies usually appear in small groups so that several caps become fused together.

Spines of Phellodon niger

Spines

The lower (fertile) surface of this hydnoid fungus is covered in pale blue-grey spines up to 3mm long; the spines are decurrent to the stem.

Stem of Phellodon  niger

Stem

2 to 5cm long and 1 to 2cm in diameter, the stem is more or less cylindrical, black and tomentose; it is often entirely buried in leaf litter.

Spores of Phellodon niger

Spores

Ellipsoidal to subglobose, spiny, 3.5-4.5 x 2.5-3.5μm (excluding spines, which are up to 0.5um tall), hyaline.

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Spore print

White.

Odour/taste

Not significant. This species is too tough to be edible, and .

Habitat & Ecological role

Saprobic, in coniferous woodlands, very often under pines.

Season

September to November in Britain and Ireland. Further south in Europe its fruiting season is extended into the New Year.

Similar species

Several other members of the Phellodon genus occur in similar habitats.

Culinary Notes

Phellodon niger is a tough inedible fungus that often has twigs and conifer needles embedded in its caps. Even the woodland bugs seem to find this fungus hard to get their teeth into. It is unclear whether Black Tooth contains toxins, and we know of no recipes for this rather uncommon tooth fungus.

Phellodon niger, southern Portugal

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.

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