For several autumns I have enjoyed finding scattered specimens of Hericium americanum, one of the weird, excellent edible tooth fungi in the Hericium genus. Two years ago my friend and mushroom expert, Sally Reymers, spotted a big specimen way up - too far up - the trunk of a standing, dead tree. Last year it appeared again, and I decided to make a serious effort to get to it.

Susan and I loaded our 11-year old Honda CRV with a 22-foot aluminum extension ladder and a big basket and drove up through steeply-sloped hay fields and into the woods by way of a crude, rutted logging road. We had to stop maybe fifty yards away from our quarry because blackberry brambles clogged the road completely. We made the rest of the way on foot, carrying the ladder around and through the brambles the rest of the way.

Mounting the ladder

It took pretty much the full extension to reach the branch just below the thing. I went up and found solid footing on the branch. In this picture, mostly in silhouette, you can see the dark sphere of my orange-capped head next to the light sphere of the Hericium fruiting body.

View from below

With one arm hugging the tree, I manage to get a few close-up shots of the monster Hericium, and of myself, for a head-to-head size comparison.


Face-to-face with the Monster

When I pulled the thing off the tree, it felt heavier than I anticipated, and I almost lost my balance. I lowered it in the basket, by rope, to Susan, who then steadied the ladder for my  descent.

Susan steadies the ladder

It measured more than nine inches top to bottom and weighed about five pounds. You can see some of the debris - bits of rotten wood - that came with it. 

Measuring the body

The teeth were browning somewhat, indicating that we might have gotten to it too late.

 Close-up of the Hericium teeth

The flesh inside was firm and smelled sweet, so we fried some up. The texture was fine but, maybe because it was so big, or was a bit old, it had no flavor.

 Internal cross section

Even though it had no flavor, there's no knowing what it will turn out like in cultivation. I didn't know in advance what Hantana Pearl would be like once in cultivation, and this Hericium is so big, it obviously has the potential to be very productive, so it ought to be worth experimenting with. I have it, and another, smaller and better-tasting specimen, in tissue culture. We'll see what happens.