Turkey Tail Fungus: Everything You Need to Know

In many ways, fungi represent some of the most important and omnipresent threats to trees.

Many fungi subsist almost entirely on the tissues of trees, and thanks to their reproductive strategy, their spores can be found nearly everywhere. And unfortunately, scientists estimate that there are millions of fungal species in the world.

Below, we’ll explain the basics of one such species and discuss how it may affect your trees. The species is known to biologists and arborists as Trametes versicolor, but most people simply call it what it looks like: the turkey tail fungus.

Turkey Tail Identification

Turkey tail fungus is named for its resemblance to a turkey’s tail – that’s plain to see when you look at it. In general appearance, it looks like a vaguely semicircular fan, with rings of varying colors (in fact, “versicolor” means “of several colors”). The fan-shaped fungus is only a millimeter or two thick, but it occasionally reaches 4-inches in diameter.

Note that when we describe the turkey tail fungus, we are really only discussing the fruiting body or mushroom – a structure that biologists call a sporocarp. The bulk of the organism grows as thin fibers called mycelia, which are found inside the tree or soil.

Turkey tail fungus does look somewhat similar to a few other species. The best way to distinguish it from its lookalikes relies on subtle characteristics, such as pore size. This is generally outside of the capabilities of amateurs, so while you can often arrive at a tentative identification of the fungus, you’ll likely need professional help to arrive at a positive identification.

Trees Vulnerable to Turkey Tail Fungus

It’s hard to know for sure, but many biologists believe that turkey tail may be the most common decomposer of hardwood trees in the United States. The species is, in fact, absurdly common, and you can probably find it during a brief walk through any hardwood forest.

Nevertheless, while it does occasionally attack conifers, turkey tail fungus is primarily a threat to hardwoods. A few of its most common targets include the following:

  • Crape myrtles
  • Apples
  • Plane trees
  • Maples
  • Walnuts
  • Willows
  • Tuliptrees
  • Oaks
  • Sweet gums
  • Eucalyptus
  • Elms

However, it is important to remember that turkey tail fungus can affect an incredibly broad subsection of trees, so you don’t want to rely on its host species to confirm or disconfirm its identity.

Turkey tail fungus is likely most commonly seen on dead trees, shed branches and old firewood, but it also attacks living individuals. It most commonly attacks wounded trees (or those that have been improperly pruned), but it is also a problem for trees that have become stressed by improper care, water stress or disease.

Sequalae: What Happens When Turkey Tail Fungus Infects a Tree

Turkey tail fungus – like many other fungi – digests and decomposes the structural elements of a tree’s cells. Turkey tail primarily attacks a component of the tree’s cell walls, called lignin.

Lignin is typically dark brown in color, which means that when the fungus destroys it, the infected wood often becomes very pale or white in color. This is part of the reason turkey tail is said to cause white rot (as opposed to brown rot, which is caused by other fungi).

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If you suspect that some of your trees have become infected with turkey tail virus, give your friends at Evergreen Arborist Consultants a call and we’ll have one of our certified and experienced arborists visit your property.