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Quick facts

Common names: bearded tooth, lion’s mane mushroom, tree hedgehog fungus, satyr’s beard, pom-pom mushroom, monkey head mushroom.

Scientific name: Hericium erinaceus

Family: Hericiaceae

Fruiting season: late August to December

Habitat: dead and decaying trunks and branches in deciduous woodland.

What does bearded tooth fungus look like?

About the size of a football, this stunning fungus forms a solid, cushion-like mound covered with white to yellow strands or spines that look like fur. The flesh is tough and elastic and it has a delicate musky smell when young, becoming strong and unpleasant as it ages.

Cap: round with many long spines hanging down which resemble icicles. It is white in colour, turning yellow over time. It usually grows to 7–25cm wide.

Not to be confused with: two other Hericium species in the UK, which both also live on beech trees, and are also very scarce conservation priorities. H. cirrhatum differs from H. erinaceus in having tiered layers of white brackets with short, white spines hanging from the underside. The third species, H. coralloides, is much rarer and doesn’t tend to fruit as high up on standing trees. This species looks a little like coral, as it grows in a branched pattern.

Bearded tooth fungus

Credit: Simon Colmer / naturepl.com

Where to find bearded tooth fungus

Bearded tooth fungus is native to Europe, Asia and North America. In the UK it’s mostly found in beech woods in southern England, with the population stronghold in the New Forest, Hampshire. It grows on the deadwood of fallen trees and on the trunks and large branches of standing trees, especially old, veteran or ancient individuals.

Did you know?

Its scientific name 'erinaceus' means hedgehog in Latin, which describes this fungi’s spine-like projections.

Value to wildlife

Bearded tooth fungus plays a vital role in the woodland ecosystem, like other species of fungi. Bearded tooth fungi are involved in the wood’s recycling service (known as saprotrophs), breaking down wood to make nutrients available to other organisms, such as invertebrates, and ultimately back into the soil for re-absorption by plants. These rare deadwood fungi are also symbolic of a complex ecology associated with large decaying wood, and are a flagship for other smaller organisms reliant on this habitat.

Bearded tooth fungus

Credit: Neil Hardwick / Alamy Stock Photo

Uses of bearded tooth fungus

This species is firmly established as an important medicinal mushroom and has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a host of ailments. Research has shown that it contains compounds that are effective against memory loss, depression, anxiety, dementia, neurological disorders and cancer. It’s also reported to have wound-healing properties. It is an edible fungus and is a widely eaten food in China and Japan.

Did you know?

In eastern folklore, anyone who eats this mushroom will enjoy increased vigour and memory.

Threats and conservation

Bearded tooth fungus relies on old, established woods. Sadly, many of these woods have disappeared from our countryside. When a wood is lost, large numbers of the animals, plants and fungi that make up that wood are lost too.

This species also faces threats from unscrupulous collectors who pick the fruiting bodies for medicinal or culinary use.

It’s tricky to accurately estimate the true numbers of bearded tooth fungus because they’re only visible when they fruit, but it’s a species of conservation concern across its European range. Here in the UK, it’s been given the highest level of legal protection and is one of only four species of fungi that are listed under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.