This here is the Lion's Mane Mushroom, also known as the Bearded Tooth Mushroom, Pom Pom Mushroom and lots of other names involving beards and hedgehogs. Also Hericium erinaceus, and according to Google Translate erinaceus means 'hedgehog'. So that's nice.
The fruiting body of the Lion's Mane reaches about 8 to 40 cm (3.1 to 15.7 in) across and is a single clump of beardy weirdness. This contrasts with close relatives who have a branching structure hidden beneath the liberated, facial foliage.
The beard/mane/hedgehog is composed of spines that may reach some 6 cm (2.4 in) in length. It's these things that are called the 'teeth' and makes this a kind of tooth fungus. Clearly, this Bearded Tooth uses them to extravagant effect, but others like our very own Bleeding Tooth Fungus find other ways of being note-worthy.
|Image: Travis S. via Flickr|
In youth, it's a beautiful white colour that gets a little yellow and brown with age.
It's not just the looks that suffer over time, but also the taste. The Lion's Mane Mushroom is not only edible, but apparently quite delicious. It's meant to taste rather like seafood! Not only that, but all the similar looking relatives are edible, too.
So that's one disastrous mistake that will hopefully be extremely unlikely. Phew!
This living Pom Pom is eaten in North America, and in the Far East it's also used as medicine. Everything is used as medicine somewhere in the world, but it appears that this one might actually have some merit.
Studies on rats show some good effects on lipid and glucose levels in the blood and it's also being investigated for potential anti-dementia treatments.
Unmistakable, edible, delicious and medicinal. Maybe it really is a gift from Santa?