Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

- Trametes versicolor

Trametes versicolor has the distinction of being the mushroom from which one of the world's leading anticancer drugs, Krestin, is derived. Although Krestin has not been approved for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it was the best-selling anticancer drug in Japan for much of the 1980s. Krestin was the first mushroom-derived anticancer drug to be approved by the Japanese government’s Health and Welfare Ministry, the equivalent of the FDA. All health-care plans in Japan cover members’ purchases of Krestin. The Latin etymology of Trametes versicolor is as follows: Trametes means “one who is thin” and versicolor means "variously colored."”[HealingMushrooms]

Coriolus versicolor (L.: Fr.) Quel. Polyporus versicolor L.: Fr. [E-flora] "It should be noted that Japanese and Chinese scientists still prefer to use the Coriolus generic name instead of Trametes." [MMCT]

"Trametes (Coriolus) versicolor (Plate 10a), colloquially called ‘turkey tail’, is a common saprotroph on various hardwood stumps and logs, causing white-rot. Both the mycelium and the fruit bodies are tolerant of desiccation. The annual fruit bodies have a zoned, multicoloured, velvety upper surface which readily absorbs rain." [IntrotoFun3]

Summary: Trametes versicolor forms thin leathery bracket-like or shelf-like clustered caps that are strongly zoned with narrow concentric bands of contrasting colors, hairy zones usually alternating with silky-smooth ones. It is very common on hardwood logs, stumps and branches. It is found in BC, WA, OR, ID, and also AB, MB, NB, NF, NS, ON, PE, PQ, SK, YT, AK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WI, WV, and WY, (Gilbertson) [E-flora]

Cap: 2-7(10)cm broad, shelf-like or bracket-like, tongue-shaped becoming fan-shaped, or growing in circular rosettes, "thin and leathery when fresh, rigid or slightly flexible when dry", flat or wavy; color "variable: a mixture of white, gray, brown, yellowish-buff, bluish, reddish, or black (or even greenish from a coating of algae), or sometimes dark brown with a white margin"; dry, velvety or silky, strongly zoned with narrow concentric bands of contrasting colors, hairy zones usually alternating with silky-smooth ones; "margin often wavy and white or creamy when actively growing", (Arora), bracket-like or bent outward to form shelf-like cap from pore surface growing flat on wood, dimidiate [roughly semicircular]; very variable in color, "with sharply contrasted concentric zones of various shades of brown, buff, reddish-brown or bluish colors"; hirsute [hairy] to tomentose, (Gilbertson) [E-flora]

Flesh: 0.1-0.2cm thick, tough; white, (Arora), up to 0.5cm thick, "tough-fibrous, with a thin black layer below the surface tomentum"; cream-colored, (Gilbertson) [E-flora] "Trametes versicolor (many-colored polypore) is an extremely variable species." [EPMW Hall] "...leathery, broadly attached in overlaping clusters..." [MOFMUS Huffman]

Pores: 3-5 per mm, white to dingy yellowish; tube layer up to 0.2cm thick, (Arora),4-5 per mm, angular to circular, thick-walled; cream to cinereous; tube layer up to 0.3cm thick, colored as flesh and continuous with it, (Gilbertson) [E-flora]
Stem: absent or rudimentary (Arora)[E-flora] "fruiting body attached laterally" [MOFMUS Huffman]
Odor: not distinctive (Phillips)[E-flora]
Taste: not distinctive (Phillips)[E-flora]
Spore Deposit: white or yellowish (Arora)[E-flora]

Comments Though fruiting during the fall and winter months, shelves of the colorful turkey tail can be found almost any month of the year. Trametes versicolor is sometimes confused with unrelated leathery shelf fungi. Species of Stereum have orange-brown zoned caps but can be distinguished by their smooth hymenial surface. Lenzites, Daedalea, Daedaleopsis, and Gloeophyllum all have a multicolored, zonate upper surfaces, but their hymeniums are variously composed of irregular, mazelike, or elongated gill-like pores.[Mykoweb]

Habitat/Range typically "in groups, rows, tiers, shelving masses, or overlapping clusters on logs, stumps, and fallen branches of dead hardwoods", "sometimes also on wounds in living trees and rarely on conifers", (Arora), annual, often in large imbricate [shingled] clusters on dead wood of numerous genera of hardwoods, associated with a white rot of dead hardwoods, (Gilbertson), fruiting from late spring to fall (Miller), may be seen year round (Buczacki)[E-flora]Typically in rows or overlapping shelves on stumps and logs of hardwoods, from fall to spring.[Mykoweb]

"Dense overlapping clusters on hardwood. May to December, but may survive for years."[FGWMP Russell]

Trametes versicolor is one of the most common mushrooms in North American woods, found virtually anywhere there are dead hardwood logs and stumps to decompose--and, occasionally, on conifer wood too. Its cap colors are extremely variable, but tend to stay in the buff, brown, cinnamon, and reddish brown range. The mushrooms are strikingly "zonate" with sharply contrasting concentric zones of color, and the surface of the cap is finely fuzzy or velvety. Often the zones represent contrasts in texture as well as color, so that fuzzy zones alternate with smoother ones.
A number of similar polypores, and even a few species of crust fungi, look more or less identical to the casual eye, and a whole host of mushrooms are thus lumped together as "turkey tails" by collectors who are more interested in gilled mushrooms and boletes. But if you are one of those folks, like me, who just has to be sure, I offer the Totally True Turkey Tail Test, below.

Totally True Turkey Tail Test
1) Is the pore surface a real pore surface? Like, can you see actual pores?
Yes: Continue.
No: See Stereum ostrea and other crust fungi.

2) Squint real hard. Would you say there are about 1-3 pores per millimeter (which would make them fairly easy to see), or about 3-8 pores per millimeter (which would make them very tiny)?
3-8 per mm: Continue.
1-3 per mm: See several other species of Trametes.

3) Is the cap conspicuously fuzzy, velvety, or finely hairy (use a magnifying glass or rub it with your thumb)?
Yes: Continue.
No: See several other species of Trametes.

4) Is the fresh cap whitish to grayish?
Yes: See Trametes hirsuta.
No: Continue.

5) Does the cap lack starkly contrasting color zones (are the zones merely textural, or do they represent subtle shades of the same color)?
Yes: See Trametes pubescens.
No: Continue.

6) Is the fresh mushroom rigid and hard, or thin and flexible?
Rigid and hard: See Trametes ochracea.
Thin and flexible: Totally True Turkey Tail.[]


Other Uses

Medicinal Uses

Immunostimulant; anti-cancer (lung, stomach, esophagus); lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol; antiviral (HIV, cytomegalovirus); controls septic shock.[HealingMushrooms] Antibiotics have been isolated from the fruiting bodies of a number of polypores (Quack et al. 1978), and examples such as Trametes versicolor (many-colored polypore) and Wolfiporia cocos contain polysaccharides and steroids reported to have antitumor properties.[EPMW Hall]
For thousands of years, Asian herbalists have used turkey tail mushrooms in their healing work. In China it has been called yun zhi; in Japan, karawatake. It was one of the fist fungi to provide a modern drug for treating cancer. Mushroomers in the know use the tough caps as a pleasant mushroom-flavored chewing gum while walking in the woods. Thy also boil them to make a healthful tea or broth for soup.[FGWMP Russell]
Trametes versicolor is sometimes prescribed for chronic active hepatitis and hepatitis B. [HealingMushrooms]
In traditional Chinese medicine, Trametes versicolor is used to treat lung infections, excess phlegm, and hepatitis. The ancient Taoists revered the mushroom because it grows on pine trees. Because pines are evergreens, Taoist priests assumed that the mushroom had the staying power of the pine tree, which never loses its foliage. Taoists believed that Trametes versicolor collects yang energy from the roots of the pine tree, and they prescribed it for patients whose yang energy was deficient.[HealingMushrooms]

The ecology of Trametes versicolor and the dynamics of wood decay Up to the early 1980s, most detailed studies on lignin-degrading enzymes were on the ‘economically important’ fungi discussed above. However, since then the search for ligninolytic systems has been extended to include species of little economic importance but of applied potential because of their rate of growth and high enzymic activity. The most obvious example is Trametes (Coriolus) versicolor, the ligninases of which were first studied by Dodson et al. (1987), which causes white rot decay of broad-leaved tree species in temperate forest ecosystems. This fungus has been widely used in bioremediation programmes and characterization of its ligninases is now well understood, providing information that can be related to its ecophysiology in the natural environment. A good example is the regulatorye effect of nitrogenon ligninolyticenzyme expression, a reflection of the inductive effect of low nitrogen levels (C:N 200:1 to 1000:1) found in wood (Swift 1982; Leatham & Kirk, 1983).[FIB]

Early phases of expansion are by a rapidly extending mycelium, which utilizes free sugars in the wood of the tree. Entry into broken or cut ends of the wood from the spore rain means that an individual mycelium is usually restricted to an elongated form because of the faster rates of expansion of mycelia along vessels and tracheids. Following this resource capture, contact between mycelia of genetically distinct individuals of T. versicolor, and with mycelia of other species of wood-rotting fungi,results in combative behaviour. T. versicolor is typical of early colonizers of wood, an assemblage of fungi characterized by Cooke & Rayner (1984) as disturbance tolerant, with a combative mycelial strategy and active lignocellulose exploitation. [FIB]

"black rot cankers on apples in northeastern United States occur primarily on limbs where xyleminhabiting basidiomycetes such as Trametes versicolor or Schizophyllum commune have extensively colonized the internal woody cylinder within the limbs." [Baugher TTF]


"Trametes versicolor came to the attention of the pharmaceutical industry in 1965 when a chemical engineer working for Kureha Chemical Industry Company Ltd., in Japan, observed his neighbor attempting to cure himself of gastric cancer with a folk remedy. The neighbor was in the late stages of cancer and had been rejected for treatment by hospitals and clinics. For several months, he took the folk remedy, a mushroom, and then, having been cured, he went back to work. The folk remedy was Trametes versicolor." "This compound has been systematically tested against a wide range of human cancers with some considerable success."[HealingMushrooms]

"Tv [Trametes versicolor],... has a long history of medical use in Asia, dating back hundreds of years in traditional Asian medicine. Tv belongs to the more advanced Basidiomycetes class of fungi. It grows on tree trunks throughout the world in many diverse climates, including North America. The Tv mushroom has a long history of treasured use in Asia as both a food and a medicine....research led to identification of two closely related proteoglycan constituents of Tv with anticancer activity: Krestin (PSK) and polysaccharide peptide (PSP). Krestin (PSK) has been studied most extensively and is in wide clinical use as an adjunctive and adjuvant cancer therapy in Japan and China. The closely related PSP was first isolated in China in 1983. Although some of the active constituents of Tv have been studied, few data exist on the anticancer activity of the whole extract despite its common use in Asia and now in the United States." "Krestin (PSK) was approved in 1977 as a cancer therapy by the Japanese National Health Registry and represents 25% of the total national costs of cancer care in Japan." [Standish,2008]


"PSPs extracted from the Tv mushroom have been shown in preclinical and clinical studies to have both significant immunologic and oncologic activity in lung cancer patients,46,48 gastrointestinal cancers,5,16,21 and breast cancer. 40,42,43" [Standish,2008] "Clinical trial data for Krestin (PSK) from China and PSP in Japan suggest that PSP immunomodulation improves disease-free and overall survival in breast cancer." [Standish,2008] "Polysaccharide-K (PSK) is a pharmaceutical grade extract of the mushroom Trametes versicolor used throughout Asia as an adjunctive cancer treatment due to its reported direct antitumor effects, antimetastatic actions and immune modulatory properties (16)." [Wenner,2011]

"Immunostimulant; anti-cancer (lung, stomach, esophagus); lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol; antiviral (HIV, cytomegalovirus); controls septic shock." [HealingMushrooms]

"Collins and Tazi (1997) isolated a polysaccharopeptide (PSP) from Coriolus versicolor which has potential for use against HIV-1 infection. It acts by inhibition of the interaction between HIV-l group 120 and immobilised CD4 receptor (lCso =150 ,ug/ml), recombinant HIV-I reverse transcriptase (lCso = 125 ,ug/ml), and glycohydrolase enzyme associated with viral glycosylation. Such properties, coupled with its high solubility in water, heat stability and low cytotoxicity, make it a useful compound for controlling HIV infections." [Singh FEFB]


Calories - 369 Protein g/100 g - 10.97 Fat g/100 g - 1.51 Polyunsaturated fat g/100 g - 0.27 Total unsaturated fat g/100 g - 0.32 Saturated fat a g/100 g - 0.06 Carbohydrateg/100 g - 77.96 Complex carbohydrates g/100 g - 76.06 Sugars g/100 g - 1.90 Dietary fiber g/100 g - 71.30 [Stamets,2005]


Polysaccharide-K [PSK](1-3 beta-glucan); polysaccharidepeptide. [HealingMushrooms] "The protein-bound polysaccharides PSK [Krestin] and PSP... from Trametes versicolor (L.: Fr.) Pila ´t [syn. Coriolus versicolor (L.: Fr.) Quelet] were also found to have an antiviral effect on HIV and cytomegalovirus in vitro (30)." [Lindequist, 2005]


Fungal Relationsips

"Many of the species of Hypomyces (e.g., H. aurantius, H. semitranslucens, H. rosellus) are probably cosmopolitan. The “cause” of the common lobster mushroom, H. lactifluorum, and two other agaricicolous species (H. banningiae and H. macrosporus) occur only in North America. While those three species obviously have restricted distributions, H. polyporinus is frequent on Trametes species in North America but also has been found occasionally in Europe, where it has a much wider host range (Põldmaa and Samuels 1999)." [BOF Elsevier]

Related Sp.


[E-flora], Accessed March 29, 2015
[2] Personal Observation and notes.
[] Accessed March 29, 2015

[Mykoweb] Accessed March 29, 2015

Journals of Interest

Page last modified on Friday, June 30, 2023 8:08 AM