Reishi mushroom identification isn't very difficult. Few other species in the fungal kingdom rival its iconic beauty.
Different types of reishi grow all over the world, so you may be able to find some in your area. If you just take the capsules for health benefits, it's still nice to know what the mushroom looks like in nature.
Below I'll go over some information on the identification of this medicinal mushroom. We'll start with a brief discussion on different species, and move on to straight identification characteristics. Don't forget to check out the pictures at the bottom!
There are a few different species of Ganoderma that are referred to as "reishi". The most common by far is Ganoderma lucidum. This is usually what people think of when talking about reishi mushrooms.
Where I live in the Northeastern United States, another common species is Ganoderma tsugae. This mushroom is so similar to Ganoderma lucidum that many people have trouble telling them apart.
Additionally, there exists a larger species, Ganoderma oregonense, which fruits on conifers in the Pacific Northwest. There's even a Southeastern reishi known as Ganoderma curtisii. And let's not forget Ganoderma capense, Ganoderma carnosum, and Ganoderma resinaceum. One can see how reishi appears all over the world!
Of course, reishi mushroom identification does not fall so easily into these categories. There's debate over which, if any, of these species are actually different. Many believe that Ganoderma curtisii and Ganoderma lucidum are the same. Some insist that all of the mushrooms above are the same species.
For the purpose of this article we'll treat Ganoderma lucidum and Ganoderma tsugae as two separate species and focus on their identification characteristics. These two seem to be the most common and well known of all reishi mushrooms.
So you wanna know the specifics of reishi mushroom identification? I've laid them out below, noting where the two main species differ.
Saprotrophic, meaning it feeds on dead organic matter. Look for them on dead or dying trees and old stumps or logs.
Grows on hardwood stumps and logs including oaks, elms, beeches, maples, and more. The tsugae species seems to prefer conifers, mainly hemlocks (tsuga means hemlock).
Kidney or fan-shaped and reddish with a wet, lacquered appearance when young. The shiny, reddish cap is one of the main identifying features of reishi mushrooms. As they age the flesh becomes tougher and spores drop. Air currents often blow these spores to the top of the mushroom, dulling its shiny cap.
The cap rarely gets larger than a foot across and an inch or two thick. It may or may not be attached to a stem.
The newest growth often shows up as a whitish edge. A main difference between the two species is that Ganoderma lucidum has a more brownish flesh color and Ganoderma tsugae has whiter flesh (see pictures below).
Spores come out of tiny pores on the underside of the mushroom rather than gills. This is why they're known as polypores (poly means "many").
Brown in both species.
Ganoderma lucidum prefers warmer regions and is found in many parts of Asia, Australia, South America, Southern Europe, and the Southeastern United States. Ganoderma tsugae likes colder temperatures, and can be found as far as the Northeastern United States.
Time of year:
Summer to fall for all species.
Now let's take a look at some pictures to aid you in reishi mushroom identification!
Here's a great view of the cap of Ganoderma lucidum. You can see the shiny appearance and new white growth on the edge. Note the reddish color as well.
Another good Ganoderma lucidum shot. This one has a stalk and seems to be growing on an old stump or log. If your eyes are good, you can see the concentric layers on the cap indicating past growth spurts.
A close-up of the Ganoderma tsugae picture from the top of this page. Notice how the caps of these mushrooms are whiter/lighter-colored than their lucidum relatives?
If you find reishi, you'll have to make a tea to reap the reported health benefits. They're simply too woody to eat like other mushrooms.
Fortunately, there are no poisonous reishi look-alikes. In fact, there are no known poisonous polypores! So hunting for reishi is pretty safe.
Do keep in mind that you should always consult with someone experienced when hunting for a new medicinal mushroom. Throw out anything you're not sure of, and only try a little bit your first time.
Good luck hunting for reishi, one of the most beautiful of all mushrooms!
The first and last picture were taken by Rattboy and are from Wikipedia under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Pictures 3 and 4 were taken by Eric Steinert and are from Wikipedia under the GNU Free Documentation License