Sparassis crispa is a mushroom of the Clavariaceae family. The common name of S. crispa is the Cauliflower Mushroom due to the white, compactly branched mass of flat, nearly leaf-like lobes forming a head-like structure. All the lobes meet at the base where there is a tough stalk. The entire fruiting body measures between 12 to 60 cm across. The lobes have a waxy texture, wavy margin and are tough but pliant. The creamy white color of a young fruting body will turn to yellow and later a brown color with age. The stalk is approximtely 5 to 13cm long by 2 to 5cm wide and tapered downward. The tough stalk is typically embedded deep within the ground or stump being used as substrate. The odor of the entire fruiting body is a spicy but fragrant, somewhat like anise seed. In the Pacific Northwest 20 to 30lb specimens have been found, though a 1 to 5lb specimen is much more common.
S. crispa acts as a parasite on the roots of conifers, typically Pseudotsuga menziesii or other members of the Pinaceae plant family. The fruiting body is solitary and forms in late fall to winter at the base of the tree trunk on near the base or the top of stumps in old coniferous forests of North America. Once established, S. crispa will reappear in the same location in successive years.
S. crispa is considered not only edible but exceptional by many mushroom enthisiasts. Before preparing, the fruiting body must be soaked in salt water to clean out the convoluted surface. Cooking thoroughly is required to soften the lobes to a pleasant texture. The flavor has been compared to walnuts. A fruiting body harvested can be stored one to two weeks in a cool dry location but should be investigated for maggots.
A synonym of S. crispa is S. radicans. On the east coast, a form of S. crispa is found that posesses thicker, more erect and rigid lobes, without a rooting base using oak and pine as a substrate in contrast to the characteristics of the west coast form. Both the west coast and east coast forms are considered the same species, though recent studies indicate the east coast form should be separated out to S. spathula of S. herbstii.
Wood produced from trees parasitized by S. crispa is economically important in some areas due to a yellow to brown carbonizing rot that in appealing in wood products/
A form of secondary growth has been observed in S. crispa with growth occurring in the tips of the lobes. This secondary growth is a rare occurance.
The above photos were taken in the coniferous forests near Alsea Falls in the Pacific Northwest of Oregon during the fall of 2010.
Arora, D. (1986) Mushrooms Demystified. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA.
Lincoff, G. (Ed.) (1981) Simon & Schuster’s Guide to Mushrooms. Simon & Schuster Inc, New York, New York.
Smith, A. (1975) A Field Guide to Western Mushrooms. University of Michigan.