Foraging mushrooms can be an activity you may learn to love, and you should start with the easy ones. One popular mushroom for novice foragers is the Reishi mushroom(1) or Ganoderma Lucidum.
Reishi mushrooms are one of the easiest fungi to identify since they often have a distinctive appearance. For instance, you can be sure you are looking at a Reishi if you notice a bracket mushroom with a deep red body and lighter colors fading to yellow, orange, and white near the borders of the cap. But are there any Reishi mushroom look-alikes?
Fortunately, there are no poisonous Reishi look-alikes. But, to an inexperienced eye, it can be hard to distinguish Ganoderma lucidum from other polypore or bracket-shaped mushrooms growing on the sides of trees.
Below we will explore Reishi look-alikes and give tips on identifying this medicinal marvel!
Let's gear up!
Reishi Mushroom Identification (Ganoderma Lucidum)
Many people refer to all Ganoderma as Reishi. However, not all Ganoderma species are Reishi. Therefore, Ganoderma Lucidum is what we commonly know as Reishi—in China, the mushroom is known as Ganoderma lingzhi. Therefore, Ganoderma lucidum and Ganoderma lingzhi have the same medicinal properties and are real Reishi mushrooms.
Read More: Learn about the health benefits of Reishi mushrooms.
Reishi medicinal mushroom is native to East Asia but grows in North America. Reishi mushrooms typically grow in the hot and humid forests across these continents.
Eighty different species of Reishi mushrooms are available. They are all bracket or shelf fungi that grow on trees. Reishi mushrooms differ in appearance depending on the area and temperature. However, most of their medicinal properties overlap.
Below, we will show you how to identify Reishi mushrooms that carry the most health benefits.
How To Identify Reishi Mushrooms?
You must know the physical characteristics of Reishi mushrooms if you plan on harvesting them. Also, if you plan to go shopping for this raw fungus in the market, you may want to know the appearance of chopped reishi mushrooms.
Reishi mushrooms are shelf mushrooms that grow horizontally out of the trunks of trees. All reishi species don't have any noticeable stem like the fungi that grow out of the ground and are always attached to some wood, often a dead stump or fallen log.
For this reason, you should always expect to find reishi medicinal mushrooms on the trunk of a tree. If you come across a mushroom growing out of the ground when harvesting reishi mushrooms for your reishi tea, what you are probably looking at is not the genuine Reishi.
Read More: Learn how to use Reishi mushroom powder in tea.
Ganoderma in Greek means brilliant or dazzling skin. As this name suggests, Reishi mushroom caps have a glossy, polished luster on the top, their main identifying feature. Additionally, the caps are kidney or fan-shaped and appear reddish when young.
Note: Interestingly, Reishi, which means dazzling skin, works well in improving the skin. Reishi mushrooms offer skin benefits and can fight skin conditions like aging, acne, and much more.
Older specimens may fade to brown color and be challenging to recognize. However, the top of their scalloped cap, which has rings resembling trees, is a reliable indicator.
Young Reishi resembles knobs or long-handled ladles. The growths are mushy and irregularly formed while young; they don't fully take on their fan-like shape until they are at least a few weeks old.
Reishi mushrooms are not gilled fungi. However, because they are polypores, the surface beneath the cap, where the spores are released, resembles the surface of a small-pored sponge and is covered in numerous tiny dots.
The pores are round to angled and white to tan in color. Checking the underside of the mushroom—or the pore surface—when foraging reishi mushrooms on stumps should give you a good idea of whether what you found is the real deal.
Expanded spores are oval and double-walled—this type of spore print becomes common as the mushrooms age. As they age, the spores drop.
Air currents often blow these spores to the top of the mushroom, dulling its gleaming cap. For this reason, if the reishi mushrooms growing in your foraging base are older or advanced, they won't have attractive skin compared to the younger version of this mushroom.
What Are Reishi Mushrooms Look-Alikes?
The different species of Ganoderma mushrooms all look very similar, and many people have trouble telling them apart from the genuine traditional Chinese medicine. Some experts insist that all the mushrooms that grow on dead and dying trees are the same species. But studies in 2017 and 2018 disagree.
Reishi species vary based on the geographic region and the type of wood they grow on or consume. Therefore, reishi species from different geographical locations will have varying medicinal properties. However, using the proper dosage, each Reishi mushroom species will always improve your overall health. Moreover, most of the mushroom species have shared benefits.
Read More: Learn the best Reishi dosage.
For this reason, there is no significant benefit to knowing which precise variety of Reishi mushrooms you have, as they all generally have similar medicinal effects and appearance. So, as long as you can tell it's a Reishi mushroom, you are good!
Some Ganoderma look-alikes are:
- Ganoderma sessile
- Ganoderma curtisii
- Ganoderma tsugae
- Ganoderma oregonense
Let's now take a closer look at how these species differ.
Ganoderma Sessile looks very similar to the young Reishi mushrooms. Therefore, you may find it hard to tell G sessile from Ganoderma Lucidum. However, taking a deeper look at the mushroom's appearance can make things easier for you.
One of the most common North American species, the cap of G. sessile, is medium to large, shelf-like, and kidney-shaped. It may be entirely whitish when the fruiting body grows but then develops a red or red-brown, hard, lacquer-like crust on top. Like Reishi, there may or may not be zones of different colors.
Ganoderma Sessile grows on maple, oak, and other hardwood trees. Unlike Reishi, the caps of these mushrooms are pretty bendable and soft.
Ganoderma sessile also has the propensity to look like it is growing from the ground. However, it attaches to severely deteriorated wood, buried wood, or wood chips.
Therefore, you can quickly separate G. Sessile from Ganoderma Lucidum by looking at how it grows. For example, if the mushroom appears to be coming from the ground, there is a chance you are looking at Ganoderma Sessile.
Some common characteristics of Ganoderma Sessile include:
- Region: The mushroom grows in the East of the Rocky Mountains
- Season: from spring until October
- Habitat: Living, dying, or damaged hardwood trees
- Size: 1.5 to 3.5 inches deep and 3.5 to 6.5 inches wide
- Shape: Kidney-shaped or asymmetrical semicircle
- Cap color: Deep reddish-brown color with a lustrous, lacquered appearance. The most typical zonal colors are tan, orangish-brown, and yellowish-brown.
- Pore Colors: White, cream, or tan pores that deepen with age.
- Color of the flesh: Tan or light brown flesh with concentric zonal coloration.
- Notes: Dark brown bruising on the pore surface—typically, the stem is missing.
You can identify Ganoderma Curtisii by its vibrant cap that shifts from red in the middle to yellow, orange, and white on the outer edges. Unlike Reishi mushrooms, it has a matte finish instead of a shiny look.
This species was once believed to be native to the Southeast, but it is now understood to be more common throughout the eastern United States. Similar to G. tsugae in appearance, this species only grows on hardwoods. It is also simple to mistake it for G. sessile.
Some of the characteristics that set this mushroom apart include:
- Region: You will most commonly find this mushroom species in the East of the Rocky Mountains.
- Season: Will last through the fall and into the winter.
- Habitat: Wounds on living trees as well as hardwood logs and stumps.
- Size: 0.75 to 3 inches deep and 1 to 5 inches wide.
- Shape: Semi-circular, fan-like form
- Color of the cap: When fully developed, the hue is a bright glossy reddish-brown, frequently with orangish-brown zonal coloration at the edge. It has concentric yellow, white, and red zones until it reaches full maturity.
- Pore color: White to tan; age-related darkening of the pores.
- Color of the flesh: Tan skin without concentric zonal coloration.
- Additional notes: Dark brown bruising on pores
The Japanese name tsugae refers to the hemlock tree. While this Reishi species can be found on maple and birch trees, it is common on hemlock and coniferous trees.
This eastern species is beautiful when young because it is so heavily lacquered that it appears someone went out into the woods and gave it a good shine.
The most common characteristics of the Ganoderma Tsugae include the following:
- Common Regions: Northeast, Midwest, and the Appalachians (wherever eastern hemlocks grow)
- Season: from spring until October.
- Habitat: Almost only in Eastern hemlock as a habitat
- Size: 1.5 to 6.5 inches across
- Shape: When young, knobby and asymmetrical; when mature, kidney-shaped.
- Cap Color: Very dark red when young, may age to a shiny, glossy burgundy-brown cap that is eventually drab and brown. Before fully developing, very young specimens exhibit white and golden borders.
- Pore Color: Age-related darkening of white to a dingy brown.
- Color of the flesh: White or cream-colored flesh with concentric textural zones.
- Additional Notes: The porous surface appears bruised and discolored. There is typically a stem, but not always.
The popular name for this species suggests that it is native to Oregon. Additionally widespread in California and the Pacific Northwest.
It is the only species with a lacquered red cap surface known to sprout from conifer trees in this area. It also grows alongside conifer trees. It's difficult to ignore this Reishi because it gets pretty big.
Below, we will list some of the most common characteristics of Ganoderma Oregonense:
- Region: Pacific Northwest and California
- Season: from fall through spring
- Environment: Conifers (dead or living, often injured trees)
- Size: 2 to 6 inches deep and 4 to 20 inches wide.
- Shape: Semi-circular in shape
- Color of the Cap: Reddish-brown, lacquered, or aged colors
- Pore colors: White to pale brown, becoming darker with age.
- Color of the flesh: White or cream-colored flesh with no concentric zoning.
- Observations: Pore flesh bruises darkly. Typically, the stem is missing.
Harvesting Reishi: How To Harvest Reishi In The Wild
If you go hunting for Reishi, you may want to know how to harvest the mushroom.
Read More: See how Reishi fights allergies.
Reishi should ideally be harvested while still young and in their prime. Wait until the cap matures into its distinctive semi-circular, kidney-shaped form.
It's also advisable to hold off on harvesting until the caps have slightly hardened. Typically, harvesting takes place 1-3 months after they initially appear.
Don't wait too long, or there won't be more polypore caps because slugs and bugs enjoy munching on them. You can choose the most attractive specimens because fruiting often contains 5–20 caps on a single tree or log.
A firm, sharp knife is used to harvest the caps. Depending on the size, you might need to use a sawing motion to remove the polypore from the wood.
Read More: After harvesting the mushroom, you may want to know the best time to use Reishi mushrooms.
Is Ganoderma Sessile The Same As Reishi?
Ganoderma sessile is a species of Ganoderma, much like Ganoderma lucidum or Reishi. These are two different mushrooms that look alike and share many health benefits.
Are All Ganoderma Reishi?
There are several species of Ganoderma, of which only Ganoderma lucidum is called Reishi mushroom. Known as Ganoderma Lingzhi in China, Reishi carries many health benefits.
Read More: Learn about the Reishi mushroom taste.
What Tree Do Reishi Grow On?
Reishi mushrooms grow on hardwood trees like oak, beech, elm, and maple. However, it is common to find the Reishi look-alikes growing on other types of trees—for example, Ganoderma Tsugae can grow on hemlock and coniferous trees.
What Time Of Year Do Reishi Mushrooms Grow?
For all species, spring through autumn.
The reishi season is different from the gilled or bolete mushroom season. They emerge at a specific time of year, but unless harvested, eaten by slugs, or severely decomposed, they will stay there all year.
The most typical scenario is that they stay on the surface of the wood until they fully degrade and fall off the tree. It's typical to discover them either about to fall off a log or stump, dead on the ground nearby.
The length of this process varies based on the region, season, and degree of bug/slug damage, but it often lasts a year.
Does The Therapeutic Efficacy Of Reishi Species Differ?
This is a great question, but there is no clear response because the North American species have not been well investigated to establish their entire range of therapeutic benefits.
Many people believe all Reishi species have the same benefits. It is, therefore, not uncommon for people to treat North American species the same way as Asian varieties. However, the usefulness of Reishi as a medicinal mushroom needs to be studied more thoroughly to better understand the differences between species.
Read More: Can pregnant women consume Reishi?
What Time Of Year Is Ideal For Reishi Harvesting?
It relies on the specimens' growth rates and, perhaps, on your cultural or legendary beliefs. For example, for spiritual or folklore-medical purposes, some foragers will advise you to only harvest at a full moon or sunrise on the second day of the second month (I made that up, but you get the point). It's up to you whether you choose to follow this or not.
Pick them when the caps are fully developed, dark red, and beginning to harden or nearly hardened. This typically occurs 2 to 3 months after they first form.
Identifying Reishi mushrooms isn't very difficult. There are no species in the fungal kingdom that rival its iconic beauty. The deep mahogany red-shellacked-looking caps stand out in the woods, even for novice foragers.
There are no poisonous Reishi look-alikes. However, mushrooms within the Ganoderma species tend to look similar. But because they share the same medicinal benefits, it will hardly make much difference.
Have you foraged for Reishi mushrooms? Were you able to identify the Reishi mushroom from all its look-alikes? Share your experience in the comments.
- Chapter 9 Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi), (1)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92757/