Public Description of Grifola frondosa (Dicks.) Gray

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Name: Grifola frondosa (Dicks.) Gray
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 Public Description (Default) [Edit]
 Draft For 2008/2009 Eol University Species Pages Initiative By Jake Cox (Private)

Description status: Unreviewed

Taxonomic Classification:

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Fungi
Phylum: Basidiomycota
Class: Agaricomycetes
Order: Polyporales
Family: Meripilaceae

General Description:

Grifola frondosa photo courtesy of, 2008,

Commonly known as Sheep’s Head, Hen of the Woods, or Maitake, Grifola frondosa is an edible species that grows at the foot of trees, particularly oak trees, in clusters of gray-brown caps which are generally curled or contorted in some manner and originate from a single branched stem structure (1), (2), (4).

See Tom Volk’s page on Grifola frondosa


Diagnostic Description:

Cluster: 15-60cm broad or more, very large, sometimes weighing in excess of 4 kg

Caps: 2-10cm width on individual caps, fan-shaped, gray-brown, curled or contorted, often with concentric zones and wavy margins

Pore surface: lavender-gray when young, turning dirty-white to yellowish with age while creeping down the stem, pores angular, 1-3 pores per mm

Stem: branched, smooth, white, tough, usually lateral

Flesh: firm, white, tough

Taste: mild

Odor: mild, nutty

Type of rot: white butt rot

Spores: spore print white, 5-7×3.5-5 micrometers, smooth, hyaline, broadly elliptical

Hyphal Structure: trimitic, generative hyphae with clamp connections

(1), (2), (4), (5)


Widely distributed east of the Rocky Mountains, rare in the west (2). Also found in eastern Asia and Europe.


Parasitic on hardwoods and conifers, often continuing as a saprophyte on dead trees. Fruits in large clusters of rosettes near the bases of trees,usually oaks (Quercus), often reappearing in the same place in subsequent years (2).

Look Alikes:

Dendropolyporus umbellatus = Polyporus umbellatus form large, overlapping clusters of circular, whitish to pale brown, depressed caps with centrally attached branches on the ground near hardwoods (1).

Polyporus umbellatus photo courtesy of Michael Kuo, Nov. 2004, (3)

Meripilus sumstinei is also similar, but with thicker, shelf-like caps and a white pore surface that bruises black (1).

Meripilus sumstinei photo courtesy of, 2008,


The species has been used in traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine for thousands of years as a treatment for spleen and stomach ailments, calming nerves and mind, treating hemorrhoids, cancer, palsy, nerve pain, and arthritis. More generally, the mushroom was used for general treatments for immune stimulation and regulation of homeostasis (4).

The Japanese common name, maitake, means “dancing mushroom,” because when someone finds one they are inclined to do a dance of joy.

A very popular edible in Eastern North America


(1) Bessette, A.E., Bessette, A.R., and Fischer, D.W. Mushrooms of Northeastern North America. 1997. Syracuse, NY. Syracuse University Press, 2002.

(2) Kuo, M. (2004, November). Grifola frondosa: The hen of the woods. Retrieved Nov. 2008 from MushroomExpert.Com:

(3) Kuo, M. (2004, November). Polyporus umbellatus. Retrieved Nov. 2008 from MushroomExpert.Com:

(4) Volk, T. and Zitomer, N. (2006, November). Grifola frondosa, hen of the woods, sheepshead, or maitake. Retrieved Nov. 2008 from

(5) Volk, T. (2000). Naming the Polypores: Why Polyporus has been split up into more than 100 genera. Retrieved Nov. 2008 from


Jake Cox
UW-La Crosse Mycology
November 2008

Agaricus frondosus (Dicks.) Schrank, Baiersche Flora München 2: 982 (1786)
Boletus cristatus Gouan, Hortus monsp.: 462 (1762)
Boletus elegans Bolton, Hist. fung. Halifax (Huddersfield) 2: 76 (1788)
Boletus frondosus Dicks., Fasc. pl. crypt. brit. (London) 1: 18 (1785)
Boletus frondosus Schrank, Baier. Fl. 2: 616 (1789)
Boletus frondosus Pers., Comm. Schaeff. Icon. Pict.: 49 (1800)
Boletus intybaceus Baumg., Fl. Lips. 2: 631 (1790)
Caloporus frondosus (Dicks.) Quél., Fl. mycol. (Paris): 406 (1888)
Cladodendron frondosum (Dicks.) Lázaro Ibiza, Revta R. Acad. Cienc. exact. fis. nat. Madr. 14: 864 (1916)
Cladomeris frondosa (Dicks.) Quél., Enchir. fung. (Paris): 168 (1886)
Fungus squamatin-incumbens Paulet, Traité Champ., Atlas 2: 121 (1793)
Grifola albicans Imazeki, J. Jap. Bot. 19: 386 (1943)
Grifola frondosa (Dicks.) Gray, Nat. Arr. Brit. Pl. (London) 1: 643 (1821) f. frondosa
Grifola frondosa f. intybacea (Fr.) Pilát, in Kavina & Pilát, Atlas Champ. l’Europe (Praha) 3: 35 (1936) 1935
Grifola frondosa (Dicks.) Gray, Nat. Arr. Brit. Pl. (London) 1: 643 (1821) var. frondosa
Grifola frondosa var. intybacea (Fr.) Cetto, Enzyklopädie der Pilze, Band 1: Leistlinge, Korallen, Porlinge, Röhrlinge, Kremplinge u.a. (München): 317 (1987)
Grifola intybacea (Fr.) Imazeki, Bull. Tokyo Sci. Mus. 6: 98 (1943)
Ixocomus elegans (Schumach.) Singer, Revue Mycol., Paris 3(2-3): 39 (1938)
Merisma frondosum (Dicks.) Gillet, Hyménomycètes (Alençon): 692 (1878)
Merisma intybaceum (Fr.) Gillet, Hyménomycètes (Alençon): 692 (1878)
Polypilus frondosus (Dicks.) P. Karst., Bidr. Känn. Finl. Nat. Folk 37: 25 (1882)
Polypilus intybaceus (Fr.) P. Karst., Bidr. Känn. Finl. Nat. Folk 37: 25 (1882)
Polyporus albicans (Imazeki) Teng, Chung-kuo Ti Chen-chun, [Fungi of China]: 762 (1963)
Polyporus barrelieri Viv., I Funghi d’Italia (Genova): tab. 28 (1834)
Polyporus frondosus (Dicks.) Fr., Syst. mycol. (Lundae) 1: 355 (1821)
Polyporus intybaceus Fr., Epicr. syst. mycol. (Upsaliae): 446 (1838) [1836-1838]

Synonymy Contributor(s):
Kew Mycology (2011); Basidiomycota Checklist

hen of the woods, sheepshead, or maitake.

Description authors: Tom Volk, Jake Cox (Request Authorship Credit)
Description editors: Nathan Wilson, walt sturgeon, clyde Elledge