The red-belted polypore (scientific name Fomitopsis pinicola), also known as the wood conk, is a very common fungus species. Its fruiting bodies can be found the entire year on logs and dead trees, sometimes on live ones as well. The red-belted polypore is widespread in Canada and almost all of the United States except the South and more than 100 trees can serve as a host.
All polypore fungi use pores to release their spores, instead of gills like the normal mushrooms. Red-belted polypores normally resemble a shelf attached to the host tree; their shape can be similar to a hoof, flat or convex. They have a strong woody structure and lack a stalk. The name of the species comes from the red band located right near the thick outer edge, which makes it very easy to identify. Concentric rings consisting of a brown or black crust are found towards the center of the fruiting body, a new one is added with every year of growth. The white pores are located on the underside. Red-belted polypores are not toxic but can't be digested by humans due to the hard woody texture.
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Fruiting bodies have a very tough structure, with a shape similar to a hoof or sometimes a triangle. Their size can reach 40 x 25 x 10 cm. Young specimens have an orange or yellow color with a white band on the edge, they later turn red or brown and the margins become orange. The top surface is smooth, while the underside is yellow or brown, with 3 or 4 pores per mm. The fruiting bodies grow on both live and dead coniferous or deciduous trees and resemble the shape of shelves.
The popular name of the Fomitopsis pinicola fruiting bodies is conks. The conk of this species tends to have a big size, with pores and basidia on the underside. Fruiting bodies are perennial, just like other polypores. Every year a new pore layer grows on top of the old one, increasing the side of the conk. Their color is initially white but becomes darker with age. It is effective when used as tinder but can't be consumed because of the woody flesh.
The most common hosts in the forests of southeast Alaska are the white spruce, Lutz spruce, Sitka spruce or the Western hemlock. The fungus grows on live conifers and feeds on decay matter. The red-belted polypore penetrates the bark and starts invading the wood, this eventually leads to the decay of the stem and death of the host tree. It causes typical brown rot but is only able to process cellulose. As a result, the dead tree remains standing, mainly composed of lignin. These remnants are quite durable and woodpeckers commonly drill holes in them, looking for insects.
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Conks are mostly found on dead conifer trees. However, they can also grow on stem wounds of live trees, broken areas, dead wood on live hosts and anywhere decaying wood is available. The most important trees of Alaska lost a huge number of individuals every year because of the action of Fomitopsis pinicola. It is estimated that up to one third of all old wood timber in Alaska is compromised because of the decay caused by this fungus. However, young trees are typically not affected, unless the bark is wounded. Possible wound causes are the action of animals, strong winds or human thinning activities.
Scientists consider the stem decay triggered by the conks as an important natural mechanism. They weaken old trees and make them vulnerable to wind or other breakage, acting as a disturbance factor. Unlike rainforests or other environments, temperate ecosystems lack fires or other large-scale disturbance causes.
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Forests need disturbance in order to be healthy, for several reasons. The fallen trees change the structure of stands, boost biodiversity, create gaps in the canopy and form new habitats. In addition, the fungus plays an important role in the recycling of nutrients, since it processes dead stems, branches and roots. They also create holes and cavities in live trees, which are used as home by many birds, as well as squirrels, voles or even bears. Fomitopsis pinicola works slowly and the decay needs a long time, which is not a problem in temperate forests with low disturbance rates and trees that live for many years. Earlier stem decay in second-growth stands is actually desired in many forests, both for the welfare of animals and the health of the forest itself.
This mushroom is known to have several medicinal uses. Cree Indians still use it to stop bleeding due to its styptic properties, but it can also improve the body's defence against cancer and reduce digestive inflammation.
The red-belted polypore is rich in polysaccharides like beta 1,3-D glucan, which are very valuable for human health. These compounds have certain immune-boosting properties and are being investigated for their effects. An improved immune system allows every part of the body to fight diseases and boosts the efficiency of all internal organs. Scientific studies have established that beta 1,3-D glucan activates the natural defences of the body and balances the immune reaction. Polysaccharides can travel intact through the digestive system until they eventually reach the small intestine. They are carried by the soldiers of the immune system, macrophage cells, and distributed to various areas. Macrophages are perfectly adapted for this task, since they have a receptor that fits the exact shape and size of a beta 1,3-D glucan molecule. As soon as the receptor is activated, the immune cell enters an aggressive stance, actively searching and destroying various pathogens live viruses or bacteria.
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Most of the top universities in the world, like Harvard, Tulane or Louisville, have conducted studies on the effects of beta-1, 3-D glucan and its ability to activate the immune system. Besides the immune boosting properties, beta glucan molecules provide other benefits. They speed up the rate of wound healing, reduce the levels of bad cholesterol, protect against the harmful effects of radiation and restrain the activity of viruses and microbes.
Beta glucan is a very effective food supplement that can improve the defence of people with a low immunity, due to various reasons. These can be chronic stress, long-term viruses, chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia. Diabetes mellitus, chronic inflammation and other very serious degenerative conditions are also positively impacted by these supplements. In addition, beta-1, 3-D glucan is a powerful antioxidant that can destroy dangerous free radicals, so it helps people who work in risky environments and are exposed to radiation, pollution or strong toxic agents. Beta glucan can also be administered without any negative side effects to people undertaking chemotherapy, radiation therapy or other aggressive forms of treatment. It can boost the effect of some commercial medication, which is not always a desired action, so you should ask for medical advice before taking beta glucan supplements.
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The tonic effect of the red-belted polypore has an anti-inflammatory action on the digestive tract. Serious peer-review scientific studies have attested the powerful anti-cancer effects of the species, which consists of several separate mechanisms. It supplies antioxidant compounds that neutralize free radicals and stop them from harming cells. At the same time, it starts a massive immune response that kills tumours and stops them from spreading. Last but not least, the red-belted polypore provides a large dose of the rare mineral germanium. This element has very strong antioxidant and anti-cancer effects. It prevents mutations and boosts the transport of oxygen to body cells, acting as a carrier of electrons and semi-conductor agent. This results in a higher cellular energy output. Scientists estimate that a good supply of germanium can increase by up to 200 times the amount of oxygen available to cells.
It also cleans toxins from the liver, thanks to the action of several bitter terpenoids that remove them from both internal organs and intestines. It also speeds up the recovery after pancreatic diseases.
The red-belted polypore is a great source of ganoderic and fomeric acids that were proven to suppress hypertensive related antiotenin-1 converting enzymes Immune system modulation, thus reducing high blood pressure.
Like most medicinal mushrooms, the red-belted polypore also has strong antiseptic effects and can kill bacteria, fungi and viruses. Clinical evidence shows that consuming the fungus can increase the number of white cells such as neutrophils by 4000% after just one day. These killer cells actively search and destroy any infection in the body, which can save the life of people who suffer from serious diseases like bacterial, viral and fungal infections, or even cancer. After about 20 hours from the moment of ingestion, the level of interferon can increase by up to 2000%.
Red-belted polypores are classified as re-generators, since they restore the health of human tissues. They also include generous amounts of natural steroids, which are very effective anti-inflammatory agents that can cure various conditions caused by inflammation, including painful arthritis. The red-belted polypore also protects the heart muscle and reduces the risk of hardened arteries. Consuming the fungus calms the nerves and provides an anti-depressive effect.
Including the red-belted polypore in your diet as a supplement can fight many signs of aging, for example tooth decay and gum conditions. The red-belted polypore also treats various forms of dementia like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. Due to its antioxidant effect, the red-belted polypore protects cells from free radical damage and fights cataracts or glaucoma. It provides an overall health boost to the entire body, so it is considered to be pansystemic. The red-belted polypore also prevents obesity by reducing body weight, as well as the amount of lipids and fats in the blood stream. The red-belted polypore also reduces cholesterol and guarantees an instant energy boost when consumed.
The red-belted polypore feeds on wood and is a stem decay species. Due to its appearance, the red-belted polypore is popularly known as the red belt conk. The red-belted polypore has a widespread geographical range and can be found in temperate forests in the Northern Hemisphere. In coastal rainforest habitats it serves as a local disturbance agent since it triggers the decay of mature trees. The nutrient cycling functions provided are essential for the health of forests; it also influences the structure and succession of stands.