Comb Tooth

Hericium coralloides (formerly H. ramosum)

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Photo of two comb tooth mushroom clusters growing on a fallen log.
The comb tooth is a branched, whitish mass on fallen logs and decaying deciduous trees.
Lisa K. Suits
Edible
Family

Hericiaceae

Description

Branched, whitish mass on fallen logs and decaying deciduous trees. Branches covered with tufts of hanging, toothlike spines. August–October. Fruiting body an irregular mass with multiple branches; sides and undersurfaces of branches covered with tufts of hanging, toothlike spines, each spine ¼–½ inch long; white to creamy, becoming yellowish; texture coarsely toothed yet soft. Stalk short, thick, stublike, dividing into spine-covered branches; white to creamy, becoming yellowish; texture hairy. Spore print white. Spores magnified are almost round, smooth to roughened, colorless.

Lookalikes: Bearded tooth (H. erinaceus) is an unbranched, beardlike mass of long, hanging spines, and it fruits in wounds on living trees.

Size

Fruiting body width: 4–10 inches; height: 3–6 inches.

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Photo of comb tooth, a beardlike mushroom with white toothlike projections.
Comb Tooth (Hericium americanum)

Comb Tooth

close up of mushroom. It looks like a snow-covered pine tree.
Comb Tooth in Columbia, MO
Habitat and conservation

Grows singly or in groups of up to several on fallen logs and decaying deciduous trees. Can reappear annually on the same spot for years. We tend to look only down when hunting for mushrooms. Try looking up–on the trunks of trees. Who knows what you might find!

image of Comb Tooth Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Considered a choice edible mushroom. The comb tooth is tasty only when young, fresh, and white. It gets sour and bitter as it matures and turns tan.

Life cycle

This species lives as a network of cells (mycelium) within dead trees as a saprobe, and possibly in living trees as a parasite, digesting and decomposing the wood. When ready to reproduce, the mycelium develops the branching "fruiting body" that emerges from the wood—this is the reproductive structure. Spores are produced in the "teeth" and are released to begin new mycelia elsewhere.

Human connections

When you are eating a wild mushroom for the first time, even one that is considered a "choice edible," it is a good idea to sample only a small amount at first, since some people are simply allergic to certain chemicals in certain fungi. Make sure they are cooked, too.

Ecosystem connections

Fungi are vitally important for a healthy ecosystem. This fungus feeds off of dead or dying trees, decomposing them as they go. This cleans the forest and helps nutrients to cycle back into the soil — an unglamorous but vital role in the ecosystem.