Northern Ireland's Priority Species

Phellodon melaleucus – grey tooth

Phellodon melaleucus

Phellodon melaleucus (Schwein.) P. Karst.
Family: Bankeraceae

This is a mycorrhizal species associated primarily with broadleaf trees. It is one of the ‘tooth’ fungi so called as they produce spores on spines on the underside of the cap instead of gills.

In brief

  • Only one Northern Ireland record from Tollymore Forest Park in 1884 but also recorded from Donegal in 2005

  • Found under oak in Northern Ireland, but in GB associated with oak, beech, sweet chestnut, birch, Scots pine and spruce

  • Found between August and November in Great Britain

  • Listed as a UK Priority Species

  • Threatened by loss of the trees with which it forms a partnership, poor woodland management and over-trampling of the soil.

Species description
There are a number of different genera of tooth fungi. Phellodon species are marked by a tough or corky fruiting body and white to pale grey-brown spines and white spore print. If Phellodon melaleucus is in an active growing phase, the cap has a wide white to pale margin contrasting with a concentrically zoned red-brown to black-brown centre. It can look as if there is a single fruiting body from above, but a number of fruiting bodies can fuse together as seen by multiple stems that are often black in colour. If sliced, the flesh is grey-brown, darkening near the stem base. It can smell very strongly of fenugreek (curry powder), especially when dry.

Life cycle
It is recorded from August to November in Great Britain. It is not known in which month the Northern Ireland record was made in 1884.

Similar species
The corky tough flesh distinguishes it from tooth fungi in the genera Hydnum, Sarcodon or Bankera and the white to pale grey brown spines and white spore print from Hydnellum. The brown cap colours of P. confluens and P. tomentosus distinguish these from P. melaleucus. P.niger is however a very close species. Both have black cap colours and a strong fenugreek (curry powder) smell. However, P.niger, as its name suggests, is even blacker, and if it is sliced, the flesh is two toned with grey on the outside and black in the centre. Additionally, the cells of P. melaleucus are olive green to black if mounted in potassium hydroxide compared to the greening cells of P. niger. Recent DNA work had difficulties trying to separate the current species concepts and there may well be other, as yet undescribed, species occurring in the British Isles. Old species of tooth fungi are notoriously difficult to identify and it is not worth trying to do so.

How to see this species
The only record from Northern Ireland is from Tollymore Forest Park in 1884. It is described as from an oak stump which is odd as this is an ectomycorrhizal species found on soil. It is difficult to think what wood-rotting species with spines and these colours that it could be, so this record is probably either P. melaleucus or P. niger, possibly fruiting through the moss covering the stump. Like many tooth fungi, it is typically found in mossy banks. It is not known in which month the Northern Ireland record was made in 1884, but it is recorded from August to November in Great Britain. Relevant access permissions should always be sought prior to visiting any sites.

Current status
In Ireland, there are records from Kerry, Mayo and Donegal, the latter from Ards Forest Park in 2005, as well as this record from Tollymore. Tollymore has been extensively surveyed by the British Mycological Society on three occasions and local mycologists since 1884 without it being refound. This does not mean that it is not there, but its presence is in doubt.

Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?

  • It is a UK Priority Species.

Threats/Causes of decline
As with most ectomycorrhizal species, the main threats are removal of appropriate tree cover, soil eutrophication due to air pollution, soil compaction due to stock or people pressure or a thick understorey (reducing light levels) of rhododendron, cherry laurel, bramble, ivy or woodrush.

Conservation of this species

Current action
There is a UK Grouped Species Action Plan for tooth fungi which was published in 1995.

  • Implementation of the Northern Ireland habitat action plans for Oakwoods, Mixed Ashwoods and Parkland.

Proposed objectives/actions

  • If refound ensure that the population is maintained

  • Systematically search Tollymore Forest Park at the appropriate time of year

  • Raise awareness with local site manager of Tollymore Forest Park and other managers of similar habitats

  • Targeted survey at the correct time of year in similar habitats.

What you can do
Some species of fungi can be difficult to identify, but if you are interested, please contact the Northern Ireland Fungus Group for details of how to record fungi. Records can be sent in using online recording forms or by contacting

Further information


Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plans

Pegler, D., Roberts, P. and Spooner, B.M. (1997). British Chanterelles and Tooth Fungi. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

Ainsworth, M. (2004). BAP Fungi Handbook. English Nature Research Reports No. 600.

Bridge, P. and Panchal, G. (2004). Population diversity and speciation in Hydnellum and Phellodon species. English Nature Research Reports No. 557.

Ewald, N. (2001). Survey of the New Forest for Stipitate Hydnoid Fungi. Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

Marren, P. (2000). Stipitate Hydnoid fungi in England. English Nature Research Series No. 420.

Text written by:
David Mitchel

iNaturalist: Species account : iNaturalist World Species Observations database