Hericium Mushrooms in BC

A Guide To Popular Tree Mushrooms Like Lion's Mane In British Columbia & Vancouver Island

Fungi in the genus Hericium are some of the best tree-growing mushrooms in British Columbia. While the bear's head mushroom is more common in BC, the most sought-after Hericium is definitely the lion's mane due to its amazing taste, large size, distinctive appearance, and possible medicinal benefits. 

I've also chosen to add the cauliflower mushroom  (Sparassis radicata) to this list due to their similarity with Hericium mushrooms. For example, Hericium mushrooms are sometimes described as "white pom poms" (pom pom du blanc), a description which also suits the white coral-like cauliflower mushroom. 

Finding Hericium mushrooms is difficult, but once you find a specimen you can usually return to it year after year as they will likely grow back in the same spot. 

lion's mane mushroom

Above: Lion's mane displaying long unbranching spines (image source)

Lion's Mane - Hericium erinaceus 

Lion's mane is one of the most saught-after edible mushrooms in British Columbia. 

The lion's mane mushroom is very recognizable, consisting of long non-branching spines growing from a dense central mass. The long tentacle-like spines are white when young, turning faintly yellow with age.

Lion's mane can be found growing from cuts or wounds in hardwood trees, like maples or oaks. They appear in the fall (August-November) and usually every year in the same spot. 

Lion's mane mushrooms are rare in British Columbia, but luckily they can be cultivated at home. 

Lion's mane is also known as old man's beard, bearded tooth, monkey head, and satyr's beard. It will also appear in some sources under the latin name Hericium erinaceum.

Finding lion's mane in BC is a challenge, so keep your eyes up around large hardwood trees like maples and oaks.

Does lion's mane have any look alikes?

Lion's mane mushrooms may resemble other edible Hericium mushrooms when young. However, apart from those harmless exceptions, lion's mane is a very distinctive looking mushroom with no practical look alikes among tree-growing mushrooms. 

Where is lion's mane found?

Lion's mane mushrooms grow throughout the northern hemishphere on hardwood trees, like oaks and maples. However, they are relatively rare in the wild, especially Europe. They are also a popular choice for cultivation given their strong growing characteristics, taste, yield, and purported medicinal properties.

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Bear's Head - Hericium abietis 

The bear's head mushroom - also known as as western coral hedgehog or goat's beard - is the most common Hericium fungus in British Columbia. 

Bear's head mushrooms can be found throughout the fall, either singly or in small groups, growing form Douglas fir stumps or logs. 

Unlike the lion's mane, bear's head has branches with dense clusters of spines growing from the end. 

Above: Hericium species can be difficult to tell apart when young. For example, the specimen above shows some characteristics of the coral-tooth fungus Hericium coralloides (formerly Hericium ramosum). When mature, the coral tooth mushroom has spines growing along the length of its branches, rather than from clusters at the end of the branches like the bear's head mushroom. 

Fresh young cauliflower mushroom

Cauliflower Mushroom - Sparassis radicata

While not in the genus Hericium, the cauliflower mushroom has a number of similarities, most notably its white, bunched-up and coral-like appearance. 

Formerly Sparassis crispa, these mushrooms resemble a tight bunch of ribbons or fans, like a flower bouquet or coral. 

These mushrooms are parasitic on the stumps of dead or dying conifers, sometimes appearing on the ground next to them.  They will usually appear in the same place in subsequent years.

Cauliflower mushrooms are slow growing and slightly chewy. 

Cauliflower mushroom look alikes

The cauliflower mushroom Sparassis radicata is a singular mushroom in British Columbia, with no practical look alikes. However, it is conceivable that a typical coral mushroom (Ramaria sp.) could be mistaken for a young cauliflower specimen. Also, the mushroom Albatrellus dispansus can appear as a dense mass of white frills. However, a quick look at some images of these mushrooms should dispell any worries. 

See the mushrooms below as potential (though very unlikely) cauliflower look alikes:

Another possible look alike is Guepinia helvelloides - also known as apricot jelly or salmon salad. This fungus usually appears as tight clusters of cartilaginous or jelly-like and vase or lily-shaped fruiting bodies. Although these are usually pink to light-orange in colour, when washed out (perhaps due to age or dryness) they can resemble cauliflower mushrooms. Luckily, this species of mushroom is also edible. 

Older yellowing cauliflower mushroom

A mature cauliflower mushroom. Slightly discoloured but still good. 

Closeup of a young but dirty cauliflower mushroom

A young cauliflower mushroom. A bit worse for wear.

Questions About Hericium Mushrooms

Are all Hericium edible?

All Hericium species in British Columbia are edible.  However, the usual caveats still apply: make sure to test a small amount first and avoid bug-infested or rotten specimens. Also make sure to cook them well. 

Is coral tooth fungus edible?

Hericium coralloides, also known as the coral tooth fungus, is a choice edible mushroom. Foragers should be careful not to confuse this mushroom with the more common ground-growing coral mushrooms which can be toxic. Also, make sure to avoid specimens that are rotten or bug infested, and be sure to cook them well.

How do you prepare Hericium?

Due to their complex structure, cleaning Hericium mushrooms can be tricky. Cut them into smaller pieces and carefully pick out any sticks or other debri. Rinse the pieaces thoroughly (luckily, these mushrooms don't retain water much). Once the pieces are clean, you can cook them any number of ways, including sautéing , steaming, or frying. Hericium mushrooms can also be quite chewy, so cook them slower and for longer than you would most other mushrooms. 

What is bear's head tooth mushroom?

The bear's head tooth mushroom (Hericium americanum) is very similar to the Hericium abietis found in British Columbia. However, the bear's head tooth mushroom only grows in eastern North America.