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Tremella fuciformis is a species of fungus; it produces white, frond-like, gelatinous basidiocarps (fruiting bodies). It is widespread, especially in the tropics, where it can be found on the dead branches of broadleaf trees. Tremella fuciformis is commonly known as snow fungus, snow ear, silver ear fungus, and white jelly mushroom. Tremella fuciformis is a parasitic yeast, and grows as a slimy, mucus-like film until it encounters its preferred hosts, various species of Annulohypoxylon (or possibly Hypoxylon) fungi, whereupon it then invades, triggering the aggressive mycelial growth required to form the fruiting bodies.
Fruit bodies are gelatinous, watery white, up to 7.5 cm (3.0 in) across (larger in cultivated specimens), and composed of thin but erect, seaweed-like, branching fronds, often crisped at the edges. Microscopically, the hyphae are clamped and occur in a dense gelatinous matrix. Haustorial cells arise on the hyphae, producing filaments that attach to and penetrate the hyphae of the host. The basidia are tremelloid (ellipsoid, with oblique to vertical septa), 10–13 by 6.5–10 μm, sometimes stalked. The basidiospores are ellipsoid, smooth, 5–8 by 4–6 μm, and germinate by hyphal tube or by yeast cells.
Habitat and distribution:
Tremella fuciformis is known to be a parasite of Hypoxylon species. Many of these species were reassigned to a new genus, Annulohypoxylon, in 2005 including its preferred host, Annulohypoxylon archeri, the species routinely used in commercial cultivation. Following its host, fruit bodies are typically found on dead, attached or recently fallen branches of broadleaf trees.
The species is mainly tropical and subtropical, but extends into temperate areas in Asia and North America. It is known throughout South and Central America, the Caribbean, parts of North America, sub-Saharan Africa, southern and eastern Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands.
This fungus is commercially cultivated and is one of the most popular fungi in the cuisine and medicine of China. Tremella fuciformis has been cultivated in China since at least the nineteenth century. Initially, suitable wooden poles were prepared and then treated in various ways in the hope that they would be colonized by the fungus. This haphazard method of cultivation was improved when poles were inoculated with spores or mycelium. Modern production only began, however, with the realization that both the Tremella and its host species needed to be inoculated into the substrate to ensure success. The “dual culture” method, now used commercially, employs a sawdust mix inoculated with both fungal species and kept under optimal conditions. The most popular species to pair with T. fuciformis is its preferred host, Annulohypoxylon archeri. Estimated production in China in 1997 was 130,000 tonnes. Tremella fuciformis is also cultivated in other East Asian countries, with some limited cultivation elsewhere.
In Chinese cuisine, Tremella fuciformis and other Tremella species are traditionally used in sweet dishes. While tasteless, it is valued for its gelatinous texture as well as its supposed medicinal benefits. Most commonly, it is used to make a dessert soup called luk mei (六味) in Cantonese, often in combination with jujubes, dried longans, and other ingredients. It is also used as a component of a drink and as an ice cream. Since cultivation has made it less expensive, it is now additionally used in some savoury dishes. In Vietnamese cuisine, it’s often used in Chè (Vietnamese pronunciation: [cɛ̂]), a Vietnamese term that refers to any traditional Vietnamese sweet beverage, dessert soup or pudding.