I'm working on a book about names and nicknames of the fifty states of USA. I came across the following in an older reference:

The name Tuckoes is a corruption of the common term Tuckahoe, or Tuck-a-hoe, derived from the word Tauquauh, an Indian word of the Mohican dialect meaning bread. This word was used by the early settlers for the Schlerotium giganteum, called Indian bread, a curious truffle-like growth formerly used by the poor people of the State for food when poverty drove them to it. It is said to grow several feet under the ground and to have­ neither stems nor leafy appendages. In appearance it resembles a brown loaf of coarse bread. This nickname is applied both to the North Carolinians and to the Virginians.

I did a little research and wrote the following:

“Tuckahoe is a rare edible species of mushroom today known as lumpy bracket or umbrella polypore (Polyporus umbellatus).”

However, I'm not sure if that's really correct. There's some confusion regarding common names, Latin names, or both.

So I'd like to ask if my sentence is correct. If it isn't, can anyone suggest a better way to describe a "tuckachoe"?


Short Answer

No, your Tuckahoe species is likely Wolfiporia extensa.


Long Answer

Well, it sounds like there is some colloquial contradictions.

It could also be Peltandra virginica, which also has the common name tuckahoe.

This is an emergent perennial herb growing from a large rhizome and producing many large leaves. An individual leaf may have a petiole nearly a meter long and a blade half a meter in length. The leaves are quite variable in shape and size, but they are often generally arrowhead-shaped.


Kalm thinks the Tuckahoo of Carolina is the same plant...call[ed] (from the Indian name) Taw-ho, Taw-king, or Tuck-ah, -- namely the Virginia Wake-Robin, Arum virginianum [now Peltandra virginica]

However, it seems unlikely that this plant is the same as the "fungus-like" structure lacking leaves and stems that your source cites.

According to John Torrey's series of 1819 letters about Tuckahoe printed in "The Medical Repository of Original Essays and Intelligence..." (volume vi; Mitchill et al., 1891, pp 34-44)

This substance was first described by Clayton in his Flora Virginica: it is there called Lycoperdon Solidu...

Barton...mentions that the roots of the Smilax China [pseudo China] are used as food by the Southern Indians : but whether they are the same as the Tuckahoe, we can only conjecture.


...it is generally supposed to be the root of the Convolvulus Ponduratus, called in this neighborhood the man of the earth; but... roots of the Convolvulus , which I have examined, were altogether unlike Tuckahoe.

...it is also believed by the natives in the South to be the roots of the Dioscorea villosa...

And finally...

[Based on its] arrangement the Tuckahoe must be considered as a Sclerotium...Our Sclerotium is so distinct from any described [previously] by Persoon, that I propose it as a new species, under the name of S. giganteum

So, given all that:

  • As I stated above, Peltandra virginica is unlikely the Tuckahoe you're interested in. Although it has a tuberous root, the common leaves and stems associated with the plant mostly preclude it from being correct.

  • I can't find any reference to Lycoperdon Solidu that doesn't date to the 1800s or talk strictly about Tuckahoe, so it's probably worth assuming that this name did not stick.

  • Smilax China is a climbing plant of the greenbrier genus. The leaves and stems of this plant would almost certainyl have been conspicuous, so this is also unlikely correct. The confusion likely lies in the "tuber" that develops in some smilax species (e.g., see below for a root of S. bona nox):

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  • I also can't find any internet presence about Convolvulus ponduratus; however, we'll take Dr. John Torrey's word for it, and assume that this is not the proper species either.

  • Dioscorea villosa (or the wild yam) is a vine with many leaves, so it too seems to unlikely be the source of the Tuckahoe.

  • So...it seems like Torrey's writings deciding that this organism was a fungus and should be called Sclerotium giganteum is probably the best early source you have for this species.

    Though sometimes found emerging from the earth and exposing a small part of the surface, it is generally met with 2 or 3 feet below the soil. When first dug up, it is soft enough to be easily cut with a knife, and of an acrid taste. Its colour internally is white, like that of the meat of the cocoa-nut, and its texture compact and homogeneous. It is covered with a tough substance, strongly adhering to the white parenchyma, of a dark brown colour, and somewhat wrinkled. When dried, the internal substance becomes hard and loses its acrimony, possessing very little taste or smell, and capable of being reduced to powder with out difficulty. When examined by the microscope, the tuckahoe exhibits no fibres or pores or any other indications of organization, so easily detected in roots and other vegetable productions of ordinary growth.

  • However, although Torrey claims to name the species (in 1819), you'll notice that the full name of the species you guessed in your question is Sclerotium giganteum Rostr., 1889, suggesting that the S. giganteum synonym of "Polyporus umbellatus (Pers.) Fr., 1821" was originally named 70 years after Torrey and therefore might in fact be a different species altogether....

    • In fact, the Tuckahoe of the American Southeast IS almost certainly a different species than Polyporus umbellatus, because P. umbellatus is a European species!!

    • Further, Wikipedia's description for Polyporus umbellatus (below) does not match those of early descriptions of Tuckahoe:

    The fruiting body is composed of numerous (sometimes several hundred) caps. They are 1–4 cm in diameter, deeply umbilicate, light brown, and form the extremities of a strong, many branched stalk. The compound fungus can be up to 40 cm in diameter. The pores are narrow and white. The stalk is whitish grey, and originates from a strong, tuber like nodule that is underground. The flesh is white, rather soft when young, although hardens with age.



So let's turn to "Some Characteristics of the Southern Tuckahoe" by John A. Elliott (1922) in Mycologia, Volume 14, who refers to the tuckahoe as Pachyma cocos:

...suggested Pachyma cocos may... be connected with the genus Lentinus.

If we look up Pachyma cocos (i.e., "Pachyma cocos Fr. (1822)") it is now known as Wolfiporia extensa, and has the following description:

Wolfiporia extensa (Peck) Ginns (syn. Poria cocos F.A.Wolf) is a fungus in the family Polyporaceae. It is a wood-decay fungus but has a subterranean growth habit. It is notable in the development of a large, long-lasting underground sclerotium that resembles a small coconut. This sclerotium called "(Chinese) Tuckahoe" or fu-ling, is not the same as the true tuckahoe used as Indian bread by Native Americans, which is the arrow arum, Peltandra virginica, a flowering tuberous plant in the arum family. W. extensa is also used extensively as a medicinal mushroom in Chinese medicine.

Wait, Chinese??! I could have sworn we were on the right track!

  • Turns out we are. From the Encyclopedia of Life:

    Wolfiporia extensa is a terrestrial wood-decay fungus which have the resupinate fruiting bodies and is known as one of the 'brown rotters'. It is a fungus in the polyporaceae family and formerly known as the Poria cocos

    In the United States, according to the limited literatures, the distribution of this species is from New Jersey to Gulf of Mexico, get as west as Texas, and reach far north to Kansas, especially in sandy or light loamy soil. In China, the production of Fuling is mainly from two regions.

    The sclerotium of W. extensa is called Tuckhoe (or Indian bread) and is considered as a food source during scarcity.


Your Tuckahoe is likely the sclerotium that belongs to what is now known as Wolfiporia extensa.


  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Did I earn an acknowledgment?!?! :D $\endgroup$ Mar 4 '17 at 23:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Sorry, I was offline for a while. That was actually an awesome job. In fact, I might possibly link to this page in my book, if that's allowed. $\endgroup$ Mar 4 '17 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidBlomstrom anything ever come of your book? I'd be interested in hearing how it's going... $\endgroup$ Oct 7 '18 at 22:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm about two months away from finishing it. It will be the biggest state symbols reference ever, though I'm also going to turn out a smaller, less expensive children's version. You can learn about it at www.kpowbooks.com/symbols Contact me at www.kpowbooks.com/contact and I'll give you a free copy, once I get my online sales gizmo set up. Thanks for asking. $\endgroup$ Oct 8 '18 at 0:32

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