The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 18, 2009


Eastern Cauliflower Mushroom

(Photo by Henry Cox)

Name: There are at least two cauliflower mushroom species in North America, both in the genus Sparassis, a word meaning torn to pieces or lacerated, which is a lot more descriptive than the image of a densely packed head of cauliflower. The taxonomists seem to be in a quandary over naming the individual species within the genus. This one is probably Sparassis spathulata (also known as Sparassis herbstii) where ‘spathulata’ means possessing little blades, little spades, or little spatulas. This term, too, is a better descriptor than ‘cauliflower.’ The western species, when young, is more dense and like a cauliflower, so maybe that is where the common name originated.

When and where found: Henry Cox spotted this rather uncommon mushroom in the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge on September 10. He invited me to come look at it, which I was eager to do because I don’t see them often and have yet to find one myself.

Distinguishing characteristics: The eastern cauliflower mushroom is made up of a cluster of pale-colored, slightly wavy fronds all connected at the base. This one was about seven or eight inches in diameter and about six inches tall. They can be quite a bit larger, up to one foot across. The fronds are smooth on both sides and many of them have brown horizontal lines. The spore deposit is white.

Edibility: All of my mushroom books clearly state that this mushroom is edible and some of them elevate it to ‘choice’ or even ‘exceptional.’ David Arora, in Mushrooms Demystified, calls it ‘a royal pain-in-the-posterior’ to clean. Henry would probably agree. He made the following observation: “It seems to have a tendency to grow around and over twigs, pine needles, bits of dirt and at least one leaf. The foreign matter is literally embedded in the mushroom – which makes it a bit challenging to clean.” Henry persisted and reported that “virtually the entire mushroom was edible (and eaten).” With one exception, everyone in his family thought it was very good. “It has a somewhat stronger, mushroomy flavor than the typical button mushrooms one can buy in the grocery store and has a very different texture. The texture is a bit like squid - a bit rubbery and somewhat crunchy.” Paul Stamets, in Mycelium Running, prefers it dipped in beer-batter and deep fried and also finds it a good addition to soups and stews. He warns that like some other fungi it accumulates arsenic from its habitat. This could potentially be a problem if the mushroom was common and consumed frequently.

Cultivation: This mushroom can be cultivated. So, if you crave that squid-like texture, look into Mycelium Running where there are three chapters covering many aspects of mushroom cultivation.

Medicinal: Cauliflower mushrooms contain an antibiotic called sparassol. They are also a source of some anti-tumor beta-glucans which are showing promise in the treatment of cancer.

Forest health: The cauliflower mushroom is a ‘good’ parasite. It feeds on living trees very slowly over a long period of time without killing the tree and it provides a side benefit to the tree. The cauliflower defends its host against other seriously destructive fungi like the notorius honey mushroom, Armellaria. Stamets is planning an experiment where Sparassis is introduced into the perimeter of a honey mushroom infestation in the hope that it will create a barrier and prevent the advance of the honey mushroom.

Sources: Mycelium Running – How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, Paul Stamets; Mushrooms Demystified, David Arora.

What are you finding: If you find something living or growing in your yard or on one of your walks in the woods and you think it might be interesting or you are just curious about it, drop me a note at

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito