Preferring to grow at the base of beech trees, these fungi look like the biggest brown open-leaved cabbages you ever saw. They are apparently quite a common British fungus and grow up to almost a metre across. The common name is Giant Polypore; the Latin scientific name is Meripilus giganteus (Pres.) P. Karst (formerly known as Polyporus gigenteus or Grifolia gigantea).
They are described as a massive compound rosette of soft brown, fan-shaped caps with pores on the undersurface, arising from a common base. They grow annually, usually from the extreme base of broad-leaved trees and stumps, and often from shallowly submerged roots running some distance from the trunk, favouring beech (as in this case) but also found with oak. They grow in summer through to late autumn and are inedible.
[There is a similar species, Grifola frondosa, but that does not achieve such a great size as M. giganteus.]
I photographed these specimens last week in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London, in the UK.
The information about this fungus was gleaned from the copiously illustrated and comprehensive The Encyclopedia of Fungi of Britain and Europe by Michael Jordan, first published by David & Charles 1995, and later in a revised edition by Frances Lincoln 2004, Hardback ISBN 0 7112 2378 5, and Paperback ISBN 0 7112 2379 3.
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