Shiitake Mushroom

Common Name - Shiitake Mushroom

Category - Fungi, Lichens

ScientificName - Lentinula edodes

Kingdom - Fungi


Class - Hymenomycetes

Order - Agaricales

Family - Tricholomataceae

Genus - Lentinula

Species - edodes


Description - The Shiitake Mushroom is a fungus that grows on logs found in the forest. The shiitake looks a lot like a burnt campfire marshmallow. The umbrella-shaped cap of the Shiitake Mushroom is tan or brown in color and feels soft and spongy. The rim of the cap may have white spots or the cap may be split revealing the white inner part of the mushroom. The gills and stem of the shiitake are white.

Size - The Shiitake Mushroom is typically larger than the white button mushrooms bought in local grocery stores.

Ecological Role - The Shiitake Mushroom is an excellent food source for snails, slugs, wildlife (such as birds, squirrel, and deer), and people.

Fun Facts - The Shiitake (pronounced she-TAH-key) Mushroom is also referred to as the Forest Mushroom, Black Mushroom, or Oak Mushroom.

Shiitake in Japanese means “mushroom of the shii or oak tree.”

In Kentucky, the types of trees that shiitakes generally grow on are American chestnut, beech, oak, hickory, and maple. 

The shiitake has a nutty or garlicky taste and is a good source of vitamin B and essential amino acids. 

The shiitake has been used for medicinal purposes in China since 100 AD. Research in animal studies has shown that the shiitake has the potential to lower cholesterol, reduce or stop tumor growth, and prevent viruses. Scientists are still researching the shiitake to learn about the benefits it may have to human health. In the future, the shiitake may be used to cure or prevent heart disease, AIDS, and cancer. 

The shiitake is native to Asia, but has been grown in the U.S. for over 20 years as an alternative crop. There are numerous recipes that include shiitakes as an essential ingredient. Look for them on World Wide Web sites.






Habitat - Shaded, forested areas

Kentucky Distribution - Not native to Kentucky; currently being grown in various forested areas of Kentucky as an alternative crop

Life Cycle - Basidiospores, shed by a mature Shiitake Mushroom, are scattered by the wind. Some of the basidiospores may die; however, others may settle on logs, wood chips, and other objects that are suitable for growth. The basidiospores then germinate if the proper environmental conditions occur. As the basidiospores germinate, they begin to produce hyphae. As the hyphae grow, they branch off and develop the primary mycelium. In order for the primary mycelium to grow, it must find a food source, otherwise it will die. Although the primary mycelium cannot produce Shiitake Mushrooms, the secondary mycelium can. The secondary mycelium forms when two primary mycelia meet. The two primary mycelia must be compatible for the secondary mycelia to form. The secondary mycelium absorbs and stores nutrients by colonizing and digesting wood. A hypal knot called a primordium then begins to form. If water and nutrients are available, and environmental conditions are suitable, the primordium will grow larger and larger, eventually producing a mature mushroom with the familiar stem and cap.

Life Span

Life Stage


Seasonal Changes - Hot, dry weather conditions can have a negative impact on shiitakes, which prefer cooler, moist conditions.

Various strains of Shiitake Mushrooms exist. Some strains prefer cooler temperatures while others prefer warmer temperatures. Therefore, shiitake production can take place all year.


Status - Rare (not native to Kentucky)




What We Can Do - Keep forests clear of litter and other trash that may pollute habitat where shiitakes live. Prevent forest fires by being careful with campfires, lanterns, cigarettes and other forms of fire.


Diagnosis and Control

Interesting Facts

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