Identifying Turkey Tail and all of its lookalikes

(image from kenkneidel)

I’ll be updating this guide as I have time. Please enjoy The Really, Really Quick Version in the meantime!

Turkey Tail, or Trametes versicolor, and all of its lookalikes are probably the most misidentified fungi on iNaturalist. To make matters worse, all four of these species love to grow together on the same logs, just to confuse you. This is a guide to help observers figure out how to identify them correctly!

Lookalikes discussed here are: Stereum ostrea, Cerrena unicolor, and Trichaptum biforme.

There are more to be sure, but these have the highest rates of misidentification. More will be added to the list later.

The Really, Really Quick Version

Trametes versicolor "Turkey Tail"
  • Concentric zones vary a lot in tint and shade
  • Cap starts out brown and ages to bluish
  • Resistant to algae growth
  • Gregarious, clusters in rosettes
  • Small pores bright white aging to cream
  • Usually with white margins
  • Slight radial folds
Image by julienpometta
Stereum ostrea "False Turkey Tail"
  • Smooth underside, no pores
  • Mostly orange and yellow coloration, never quite bluish like T. versicolor
  • Looks and feels like a potato chip made of leather
Image by mikeakresh
Trichaptum biforme "Purple Tooth Polypore"
  • Pretty drab, mostly white and brown, when it's not purple
  • Grows algae from the center outwards
  • Toothy pores, start out purple and fade to tan
  • Cap edge is always purple or brown, not white
  • Often has Fairy Pins
Image by mikeakresh
Cerrena unicolor "Mossy Maze Polypore"
  • Densely hairy
  • Grows algae quickly
  • Thick and pillowy-looking, strong radial folding
  • Pores are light grey to mauve, sometimes toothy
  • Pores always mazelike when viewed straight-on
Image by valerie87

The Detailed Version

Coming soon!

What can you do to help?

  • Take photos of the underside when you observe mushrooms!
  • Take more than one picture - the more the better!
  • Use this guide to help identify some of these taxa. For example, there are tons of Trichaptum biforme misidentified as Cerrena unicolor.
  • Link to this guide when helping others learn to identify these similar mushrooms.
  • Give me feedback in the comments below!

Thank you! Can’t wait to dig in as I’ve got a good handful to sort out.


Does this guide have a geographical focus, or might i apply it in Timbuktu?


But what about other Trichaptum and Trametes species?


Trametes versicolor is very variable (black, blueish, brown or grey). In Europe one other belty Trametes is Trametes ochracea which usually does not have any blackish in it. T. versicolor: silky shininess, blue-black colors. Individuals growing in the shadow are often paler. Trametes has always white round pores; compare with Trichaptum. Cerrena unicolor-pores are irregular and greyish.

Looks like the images broke overnight - they are fixed now. Hopefully doesn’t happen again!

@mreith Since I live in the eastern U.S., it’s biased towards my region, but it looks like you can find T. versicolor, Stereum, and Trichaptum in Timbuktu. Not sure about C. unicolor.

@melodi_96 I’ll be adding more species to the list.

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Thank you! This’ll be great!

The joke in our club is that we knew what a turkey tail was until we read Michael Kuo’s Turkey tail key and now we are not so sure.

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I have figured out the rough distinctions given here - Where I have trouble is differentiating within the genera - any tips there?

@lostculture I love Michael Kuo’s material, but I wish there was more on polypores! I think it’s very useful that I can see on iNat’s T. versicolor species page what casual observers most often confuse it for (or confuse for it) which allows me to get at precisely the problem areas. T. biforme and C. unicolor are pretty common lookalikes, but I’m not sure Michael knows that!

@pitm That’s definitely where I’m going next. It’s real tricky though. T. gibbosa and larger species are easy, but with thin colorful Trametes species, sometimes I just identify to genus level. I’ve never even seen T. ochracea so it’s hard to apply my own experience to it. It will take a little research into the literature.

The table format doesn’t look like it plays well with mobile.

You can find a good key to Trametes here, page 226. It also contains a table delineating the differences from look alikes.

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