Sparassis radicata — Cauliflower mushroom

Cauliflower mushroom, Sparassis radicata

Cauliflower mushroom2, photograph by Ludovic Le Renard.

Cauliflower mushroom, Sparassis radicata

Cauliflower mushroom6 growing at base of Douglas fir tree, photograph by Ludovic Le Renard

The fruitbodies are 10–50 cm across and 10–20 cm high and shaped like a plate full of cream-coloured, flat noodles. Each mushroom consists of a mass of leafy, ruffled white to yellowish lobes. Lobes are around 15–25 mm wide, firm. Old specimens become yellow.

Odour: Fragrant to negligible.
Stem: 5–15 cm long x 3–5 cm wide, tapering, attached to living, dying or dead tree roots.
Ring or veil: None.
Cup: None.
Spores: 5–6.5 x 3.5–4 µm, smooth.
Habitat: On the ground, on roots or at the base of dead trunks of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) or spruce (Picea sitchensis); in coastal California near pine (Pinus spp.). Probably a parasite on living trees, and able to form fruitbodies annually for several years on dead roots and trunks.
Geographic distribution: Throughout the conifer forests of western North America.

The lion's mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) also forms a white cushion, but it hangs high up in a tree, and it has long, hanging white spines instead of flat lobes. It is also a good edible. Coral mushrooms in the genus Ramaria, many of them poisonous, grow from the ground, not on trees and they have roughly upright cylindrical branches rather than flattened lobes. In older books, the western cauliflower mushroom is usually named "Sparassis crispa", which was shown to be a European species3.

Edible, and with a nice crunchy texture. A small number of people have experienced gastrointestinal upsets after eating this species5. Cook this and other foraged mushrooms thoroughly, and sample only a spoonful or two if this is the first time you are tasting the cauliflower mushroom.

Treatment: Contact your regional Poison Control Centre if you or someone you know is ill after eating Cauliflower mushrooms. Poison Centres provide free, expert medical advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If possible, save the mushrooms or some of the leftover food containing the mushrooms to help confirm identification.

Poison Control:
British Columbia: 604-682-5050 or 1-800-567-8911.
United States (WA, OR, ID): 1-800-222-1222.

MyCoPortal. Mycology Collections Portal, <>, accessed February 2018.

Specimen Sparassis radicata UBC F32078, GenBank #MF954697.

Hughes, K. W., Segovia, A. R. & Petersen, R. H. Transatlantic disjunction in fleshy fungi. I. The Sparassis crispa complex. Mycological Progress 13, 407-427, doi:10.1007/s11557-013-0927-1 (2014).

Siegel, N. & Schwarz, C. Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast. A Comprehensive Guide to the Fungi of Coastal Northern California. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California (2016).

Beug, M. W. Mushroom poisoning in North America, summary of voluntary reporting and news articles for 2015 and 2016. McIlvainea <> 25 (2016).

Specimen Sparassis radicata UBC F33014, GenBank #MH718229.