Fistulina hepatica is a cosmopolitan fungus that is known in Europe as growing on oak trees. In Western Australia it favours Jarrah, though I have one next to my house that grows on a Blackbutt. Though it could not be classed as common, it is widespread. I have seen it growing in Kings Park in Perth. It probably grows right throughout the range of the Jarrah tree. As a young fungus, it is quite soft and dense, but as it ages it can become quite tough, like many other bracket fungi. Here is a small specimen that is around 120 mm across.
Note the ribbed upper surface. The underside is yellow pores. There really isn’t anything else that you could confuse this with unless you really tried. Though the specimens I have seen do show signs of insect attack, they do seem to be quite resistant to that attack and the fungus makes it through to old age without being reduced to a mush, if I may use that term
When cut into slices, it displays quite a pleasant pattern:
With some exposure to the air, the cut surfaces can take on a liver red colour, which is where the ‘hepatica’ part of the name comes from. This colour may be due to the phenolic compounds that are reported to occur in it. It is also reported to contain vitamin C, which is unusual for a fungus in my experience.
The name ‘Beefsteak fungus’ is perhaps unfortunate as it tends to make one think that it should be treated like a piece of meat. The taste, however is nothing like meat, or any of the mushrooms that you might normally serve with meat. Raw, it is rather bland, but with a light frying it takes on a slightly acidic taste that most closely resembles some sort of fruit. So much so that I think it might reasonably be incorporated into a sweet dish. I have given a sample to a friend who is a cooking guru to see what she comes up with. In the meantime, I have left some in the fridge while I wait for a response.
This fungus has been brought into culture and I will see if I can persuade any of my friends with expertise in that field to attempt the same.
I will add to this post when I have investigated further.
19 June 2013
I cut the mushroom into thin slices and poached them in a sugar solution. The resultant pieces were similar to apple which has undergone the same treatment. With enough of these, one could perhaps make a sweet mushroom pie.
23 June 2013
Thus fungus is responsible for an effect known as black fleck in jarrah timber. I have been told by a local tree faller that timber with black fleck does not bend and warp in the same way that normal timber does.