Birch bracket
Piptoporus betulinus, commonly known as the birch polypore, birch bracket, or razor strop, is one of the most common polyporous
Polypores are a group of tough, leathery poroid mushrooms similar to boletes, but typically lacking a distinct stalk. The technical distinction between the two types of mushrooms is that polypores do not have the spore-bearing tissue continuous along the entire underside of the mushroom. Many...

 bracket fungi
Bracket fungus
Bracket fungi, or shelf fungi, among many groups of the fungi in the phylum Basidiomycota. Characteristically, they produce shelf- or bracket-shaped fruiting bodies called conks that lie in a close planar grouping of separate or interconnected horizontal rows...

 and, as the name suggests, grows almost exclusively on birch
Birch is a tree or shrub of the genus Betula , in the family Betulaceae, closely related to the beech/oak family, Fagaceae. The Betula genus contains 30–60 known taxa...

 trees. The brackets burst out from the bark of the tree, and these fruiting bodies can last for more than a year. Technically, it is an edible mushroom
Edible mushroom
Edible mushrooms are the fleshy and edible fruiting bodies of several species of fungi. Mushrooms belong to the macrofungi, because their fruiting structures are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. They can appear either below ground or above ground where they may be picked by hand...

, with a strong, pleasant "mushroomy" odor but a bitter taste. It is said to have medicinal properties, and the velvety cut surface of the fruiting body were used as a strop for finishing the finest of edges on razors. Dried specimens have also been used as tinder
Tinder is easily combustible material used to ignite fires by rudimentary methods. A small fire consisting of tinder is then used to ignite kindling. Anything that can be ignited by a match can be considered tinder; or by more rigorous definition, anything that begins to glow under a shower of...

, and this fungus was carried by "Ötzi the Iceman
Ötzi the Iceman
Ötzi the Iceman , Similaun Man, and Man from Hauslabjoch are modern names for a well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived about 5,300 years ago. The mummy was found in September 1991 in the Ötztal Alps, near Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy. The nickname comes from the...

" – the 5,000 year old mummy
A mummy is a body, human or animal, whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or incidental exposure to chemicals, extreme coldness , very low humidity, or lack of air when bodies are submerged in bogs, so that the recovered body will not decay further if kept in cool and dry...

 found in Tyrol.


The fruiting bodies (basidiocarp
In fungi, a basidiocarp, basidiome or basidioma , is the sporocarp of a basidiomycete, the multicellular structure on which the spore-producing hymenium is borne. Basidiocarps are characteristic of the hymenomycetes; rusts and smuts do not produce such structures...

s) are pale, with a smooth greyish-brown top surface, with the underside a creamy white and with hundreds of pores that contain the spore
In biology, a spore is a reproductive structure that is adapted for dispersal and surviving for extended periods of time in unfavorable conditions. Spores form part of the life cycles of many bacteria, plants, algae, fungi and some protozoa. According to scientist Dr...

s. The fruiting body has a rubbery texture, becoming corky with age . Wood decayed by the fungus, and cultures of its mycelium, often smell distinctly of green apples .

P. betulinus has a bipolar mating system  where monokaryons or germinating spores can only mate and form a fertile dikaryon
Dikaryon is from Greek, di meaning 2 and karyon meaning nut, referring to the cell nucleus.The dikaryon is a nuclear feature which is unique to some fungi, in which after plasmogamy the two compatible nuclei of two cells pair off and cohabit without karyogamy within the cells of the hyphae,...

 with an individual that possesses a different mating-type factor. There are at least 33 different mating-type factors within the British population of this fungus . These factors are all variants or allele
An allele is one of two or more forms of a gene or a genetic locus . "Allel" is an abbreviation of allelomorph. Sometimes, different alleles can result in different observable phenotypic traits, such as different pigmentation...

s of a single gene, as opposed to the tetrapolar mating system of some other basidiomycete
Basidiomycota is one of two large phyla that, together with the Ascomycota, comprise the subkingdom Dikarya within the Kingdom Fungi...

 species, which involves two genes .

Range and ecology

The geographic distribution of Piptoporus betulinus appears to be restricted to the Northern Hemisphere
Northern Hemisphere
The Northern Hemisphere is the half of a planet that is north of its equator—the word hemisphere literally means “half sphere”. It is also that half of the celestial sphere north of the celestial equator...

. There is some doubt about the ability of isolates from the European continent, North America and the British Isles to interbreed.

It is a necrotrophic parasite
Parasitism is a type of symbiotic relationship between organisms of different species where one organism, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the other, the host. Traditionally parasite referred to organisms with lifestages that needed more than one host . These are now called macroparasites...

 on weakened birches, and will cause brown rot
Brown rot
Brown rot may refer to the following diseases:*Wood-decay fungus, a disease of trees and wood.*Ralstonia solanacearum, a disease of plants caused by bacteria.*Monilinia fructicola, a disease of stone fruits....

 and eventually death, being one of the most common fungi visible on dead birches. It is likely that the birch bracket fungus becomes established in small wounds and broken branches and may lie dormant for years, compartmentalised into a small area by the tree's own defence mechanisms, until something occurs to weaken the tree. Fire, drought and suppression by other trees are common causes of such stress.

In most infections there is only one fungal individual present, but occasionally several individuals may be isolated from a single tree, and in these cases it is possible that the birch bracket fungus entered after something else killed the tree. These fungal "individuals" can sometimes be seen if a slice of brown-rotted birch wood is incubated in a plastic bag for several days. This allows the white mycelium
thumb|right|Fungal myceliaMycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae. The mass of hyphae is sometimes called shiro, especially within the fairy ring fungi. Fungal colonies composed of mycelia are found in soil and on or within many other...

 of the fungus to grow out of the surface of the wood. If more than one individual dikaryon
Dikaryon is from Greek, di meaning 2 and karyon meaning nut, referring to the cell nucleus.The dikaryon is a nuclear feature which is unique to some fungi, in which after plasmogamy the two compatible nuclei of two cells pair off and cohabit without karyogamy within the cells of the hyphae,...

 is present, lines of intraspecific antagonism
Intraspecific antagonism
Intraspecific antagonism means a disharmonious or antagonistic interaction between two individuals of the same species. As such, it could be a sociological term, but was actually coined by Alan Rayner and Norman Todd working at Exeter University in the late 1970s, to characterise a particular kind...

 form as the two individual mycelia interact and repel each other .

This fungus is eaten by the caterpillar
Caterpillars are the larval form of members of the order Lepidoptera . They are mostly herbivorous in food habit, although some species are insectivorous. Caterpillars are voracious feeders and many of them are considered to be pests in agriculture...

s of the fungus moth Nemaxera betulinella.

Medicinal properties

Piptoporus betulinus has anti-inflammatory
Anti-inflammatory refers to the property of a substance or treatment that reduces inflammation. Anti-inflammatory drugs make up about half of analgesics, remedying pain by reducing inflammation as opposed to opioids, which affect the central nervous system....


and anti-bacterial properties.

Oils found in the fruit of the fungus are poisonous to the parasitic whipworm
The human tapworm is a roundworm, which causes trichuriasis when it infects a human large intestine. The name whipworm refers to the shape of the worm; they look like whips with wider "handles" at the posterior end.-Life cycle:The female T. trichiura produces 2,000–10,000 single celled eggs per day...

Trichuris trichura.

External links

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