Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Sparassis crispa - Cauliflower Mushroom

Family: Sparassidaceae

Sparassis is usually placed in a family of its own, but is traditionally grouped with the coral fungi because of its branched fruiting body. [MushDemyst]

Summary: Sparassis crispa is a compact mass of leafy lobes with wavy (frilly) edges, the lobes smooth and whitish to yellowish, arising annually from a tough perennial stem attached to conifer roots (or sometimes wood), usually singly near the bases of conifer trunks and stumps. The odor is spicy-fragrant. Spores are elliptic and smooth, produced on 4-spored basidia. Specimens can grow quite large (over 50 pounds) (Trudell). Western North American specimens have been known in the past as Sparassis radicata Weir: whether this is a separate species is a matter of ongoing debate, (Dai(1)). S. crispa is found in WA, OR, CA, (Castellano), and BC (in Redhead(5)). It has been reported from ID by Andrew Parker, pers. comm. and there are ID collections at Oregon State University. It also occurs in Europe and Asia (Trudell).[E-flora]

Fruiting Body: 12-60cm or more across and high, a compactly branched mass of leafy lobes that are thin, flattened, wavy, and pliant, arising from a rooting base, (Arora)[E-flora]
Flesh: firm, fairly tough or elastic; white, (Arora)[E-flora]
Branch Color: whitish to creamy or yellowish, often becoming cinnamon buff or tan when old or in dry weather, "sometimes with darker brown stains on the edges"; smooth, (Arora)[E-flora]
Stem: 5-13cm x 2-5cm, usually narrowing downward, "fleshy but very tough, buried deep in ground (or wood)", (Arora),[E-flora]
Odor: spicy-fragrant, (Arora), strong, somewhat disagreeable or like smoked bacon, (Castellano), pleasant (Ammirati), quite pleasant, faintly of aniseed, (Lincoff(1)), not distinctive (Miller)[E-flora]
Taste: pleasant, of walnut, (Lincoff(1)), mild and pleasant (Miller)[E-flora]
Microscopic Spores: spores 5-7 x 3-5 microns, elliptic, smooth, inamyloid, colorless; basidia 4-spored, 40-60 x 4-8 microns, clavate; cystidia absent; clamp connections present, (Castellano), spores 5-7 x 3-5 microns, broadly elliptic, smooth, (Arora)[E-flora]
Spore Deposit: white (Castellano)[E-flora]
Genus: "THE branched fruiting body with wavy, flattened, leafy or ribbonlike lobes is unique to Sparassis, and most mycologists now sequester it in a family of its own. Despite the common name, our species looks more like a giant brain than a cauliflower. It fruits at the bases of trees (another distinctive feature), appearing year after year in the same spots. From a size and edibility standpoint, Sparassis is indisputably the king (or queen) of the coral fungi. It is highly esteemed for its fragrance, flavor, and keeping quality, and I found it to be a staple item in the monsoon diet of many Himalayan villagers. Only two species occur in North America, one western and one eastern; a key hardly seems necessary." [MushDemyst]

Habitat / Range
usually single at or near the bases of conifer trunks and stumps, fruiting usually in the late fall or winter, (Arora), single, typically within 2 meters of the base of a living coniferous tree (Pseudotsuga, Pinus), fall, (Castellano), fruiting in late summer and fall (Miller)[E-flora] Saprophytic [Kavishreen,2008]
When to look Late summer to autumn.[EMB Laessoe]
Where to look At the base of softwood trunks or stumps, mostly pine, in plantations and native woodland.[EMB Laessoe]
How it grows Often solitary.[EMB Laessoe]

"a parasite of pines (Pinus) and can be found around the bases of infected trees and on wood buried in the ground." [EMPW Hall] "Sparassis crispa is a parasite of tree roots, especially those of Douglas-fir, and fruitbodies often will recur in the same spot, although not necessarily every year. It occurs in northern North America, Europe, and Asia." [Trudell MPNW]

Protection Status:

Edible Uses

"edible and exceptional: thorough cooking needed to render it tender, for instance gentle sautéing or parboiling followed by baking or stewing, (Arora), leave the base when collecting for food, so that it will fruit the next year, (Ammirati)" [E-flora] Edible and choice, but cleaning debris from the branches can be a deterrent.[Mykoweb]

"...young specimens are among the most highly sought-after edible mushrooms in the PNW." [Trudell MPNW]

Excellent.[FGWMP Russell]]

Its pleasant taste and impressive size make the Cauliflower a very popular edible fungus. It is, however, only edible when young or Just mature; old specimens have a very unpleasant flavor. The cream-white fruiting body rests on a short, thick stem. It can weigh up to 30Ib (14kg) in record specimens, but 2-20lb (l-9kg) is the average weight. [EMB Laessoe]

Flavor Mild. [EMB Laessoe]
Cooking tip Wash well and dry as much as possible before cooking.[EMB Laessoe]

"Edible and exceptional. The perfect mushroom for a special occasion, it is as elegant as it looks intelligent. Thorough cooking is necessary, however, to render it tender, and it is a royal pain-in-the-posterior to clean! Gentle sauteeing or parboiling followed by baking or stewing is best. Fresh specimens can be stored for a week or two in a cool dry place, but be sure to check first for maggots!" [MushDemyst]

"Spurassis crispa and other species with honeycomb caps readily accumulate grit, which is difficult to remove." [WEFGO]

" Nowadays, this mushroom is very popular among consumers because it is sweet, tender and rich in nutrients." [Chandrasekaran et al.]

Other Uses

"If you dry this mushroom quickly, it will shrink but keep its attractive form. Then it makes an attractive and permanent desktop decoration." [FGWMP Russell]


"A basidiomycete Sparassis crispa, an edible mushroom, can be cultivated comparatively easily and it has a large amount of B-1,3-glucan, i.e. about 43.6% of its dry weight [7]. Furthermore, B-1,3-glucan from fruit body of S. crispa shows anti-tumor activity [8]. Mostly, polysaccharide extracts whose primary binding pattern is B- 1,3-linkage are obtained by various extraction methods, i.e. hot water extraction, cold alkali extraction, and hot alkali extraction [9]." [Kurosumi,2006] "More than 40% of SC is composed of b-D-glucan, a polysaccharide of D-glucose..." [Yoshikawa,2010]

"There are some reports on the isolation of beta-glucan and antifungal benzoate derivatives.1–6) We examined the biological activity of an extract of the mushroom, and found inhibitory activity against melanin synthesis by mouse B16 melanoma cells and against the growth of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)." [Kawagishi et al.,2007]

"It has been reported that S. crispa produces antibiotic substances. For example, suppression of Bacillus subtilis growth on agar media is known to be due to sparassol (methyl-2-hydroxy-4-methoxy-6- methylbenzoate) (1) [29]. Woodward et al. reported that S. crispa produced 3 antifungal compounds when submerged in culture in a 2% malt broth. The compounds included sparassol, and two other antifungal compounds, methyl- 2,4-dihydroxy-6-methylbenzoate (2) and methyl-dihydroxymethoxy-methylbenzoate (the positions of substituents were unclear), both of which showed higher antifungal activity than sparassol against Cladosporium cucumerinum [30]." [Kimura,2013]

"Hot water extracts from the fruiting bodies of 16 species of mushroom, including S. crispa, were screened for HIV-1 RT inhibitory activity. The extract of S. crispa elicited 70.3% inhibition when tested at a concentration of 1 mg/mL. However, the active component remains unclear [35]." [Kimura,2013]

Graded as moderate for it's total antioxidant activity, when compared to several other species of mushrooms. A water extract yielded 5.5mg/g phenolic content, while a methanolic extract yielded 1.7mg/g phenolic content. [Puttaraju et al.,2006]

"SC [Sparassis crispa] has been reported to have many biological effects such as tumor-suppressing effects,2,4,5) effects in improving natural killer cell activity,5) anti-angiogenic effects,4) anti-allergic effects,6) wound-healing effects,7) and effects in enhancing hematopoietic responses.2,8) In addition, a recent study suggested that the administration of b-D-glucan from SC could be an effective treatment strategy for cancer patients.9)" [Yoshikawa,2010]


"Sparassis crispa Fr., an edible mushroom recently cultivable in Japan, contains a remarkably high content of...(SCG) showing antitumor activity (Ohno et al., 2000)." [Peter_C_Cheung]

"... the fruiting body of the medicinal and edible mushroom Sparassis crispa produces an alkaliphilic esterase. " [Chandrasekaran et al.]

Fatty acid composition (% total fatty acid methyl esters) of uncultivated edible mushrooms - Total saturated 19%; Total monounsaturated 49.7%; Total polyunsaturated; 31.3% [Kavishreen,2008]

"...Sparassis crispa contained 15 among the 30 phenolic compounds. S. crispa, a medicinal mushroom contained the largest total concentration of phenolic compounds (i.e., 764 µg/g)..." [Kim,2008]

"Scientifc investigation has led to the isolation of many compounds from S. crispa that have been shown to have healthpromoting activities. The fruiting bodies of S. crispa contain approximately 90% water, protein, lipid, carbohydrate, ash, and dietary fiber.... Furthermore, the content of vitamin D 2, which aids intestinal calcium absorption, was shown to be 0.17 mg per 100 g of dry weight,.... Also S. crispa contained a relatively large amount of glucosyl ceramide (approximately 0.2%), which is a glycoside of ceramide.... Though S. crispa has a scent of its own, the results of headspace analyses showed that 3-octanone, DL-3-octanol, and 1-octen- 3-ol contributed mutually to the particular aroma of this mushroom [6]. It is noteworthy that the beta-glucan content of S. crispa is more than 40% of the dry weight of the fruiting bodies, as measured by the enzyme method of the Japan Food Research Laboratories (Tokyo) [3]." [Kimura,2013]

Approximate composition of Sparassis crispa (per 100 g dry sample). - Protein 13.4g, Fat 2.0g, Ash 1.8g, Carbohydrate 21.5g, Dietary fber (DF) 61.2g, Beta-glucan from DF 43.5g [Kimura,2013]

"We isolated 3 novel phthalides, designated hanabiratakelide A (1), B (2), and C (3), from the SC fruit body. In this investigation, 3 known phthalides (4—6), ubiquinone-9, and 2 known unsaturated fatty acids were also isolated." [Yoshikawa


"In a small clinical trial, powder of S. crispa (Wulfen): Fr. (300 mg per day) was given orally to several cancer patients after one course of lymphocyte transfer immunotherapy. Performance status of 14 cases were monitored after several months, and 9 cases were improved (61,62)." [Lindequist, 2005]

Comments: "Better known as S. radicata, this fantastic fungus looks more like a sea sponge or "bouquet of egg noodles" (Alexander Smith) than a cauliflower. The flattened, ribbon like lobes or "branches", plus the overall white to yellowish color and tough, rooting base distinguish it from other coral fungi. The spicy odor is also distinctive, but difficult to characterize. In the Pacific Northwest, 20-30( or even 50!) pound specimens are not unheard of, but in our area the size range is generally 1-5 pounds-or about the size of a human head (a cross-section, coincidentally, reveals brainlike convolutions or "canals"). Certain cup fungi (e.g., Peziza proteana form sparassoides and Wynnea sparassoides) sometimes mimic it, but are brown or lilac-tinted and/ or smaller and bear their spores in asci rather than on basidia (a microscopic distinction). The name S. crispa has also been applied to the equally edible cauliflower mushroom of eastern North America, which favors oak and pine, has thicker, more erect, rigid-looking branches or lobes, and lacks a rooting base. However, recent studies indicate that its "correct" name is S. spathulata or S. herbstii, and that the western species, which has been called S. radicata, is the "true" S. crispa...."[MustDemyst]


Related Sp.

"In China, several preparations from Hericium caput-medusae (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. [syn. Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr.) Pers.] are on the market for treating chronic stomach diseases and other purposes(63)." [Lindequist, 2005]

"Sparassis herbstii has larger branches." [FGWMP Russell]

Sparassis radicata--like its eastern counterparts Sparassis crispa and Sparassi spathulata--is found at the bases of trees, growing from dead or dying roots. But while the eastern cauliflower mushrooms appear under hardwoods, the western species is usually found under conifers (especially pines). The physical appearance of Sparassis radicata is pretty much unmistakeable, and it is one of only a few mushrooms that can be successfully identified with comparison to photos. Sparassis radicata, as its Latin name suggests, usually has a radicating, underground portion.[]

There has long been confusion whether Sparassis radicata is distinct from S. crispa. Molecular analysis has now shown that the western S. radicata is a separate species from the eastern and European S. crispa.[Mykoweb]

"Sparassis crispa" in the sense of several western authors (e.g. States, Arora, and Stamets) is a synonym. This confusion results from the fact that Sparassis radicata was originally described (Weir, 1917) as a western, conifer-loving, rooting morphological species--but was later found to be the same as European and Asian Sparassis crispa specimens in a mating study (Martin & Gilbertson, 1976). However, a recent DNA study (Wang et al., 2004) finds our continent's Sparassis radicata to differ genetically from European and Asian crispa-like specimens, breathing new life into the original morphologically defined, western species. []


Page last modified on Friday, June 30, 2023 8:09 AM