Collecting Wood Ear (Pepeiao) Mushrooms in Hawaii

I have always been interested in mushrooms. I often go on scouting missions in the jungle or areas around my farm, on the eastern side of the Big Island. There are a few edible mushrooms in Hawaii and I have been only able to find a couple of them. One which is most plentiful is called Wood Ear or auricularia cornea, and even a novice can identify.


Jelly fungi or Auricularia cornea

I first noticed these peculiar mushrooms on fallen branches in my orchards. They are brown, rubbery in texture and slightly resemble ears called Auricularia cornea.

My friend, Kula, pointed out that in Hawaii people call them Pepeiao “peh-peh-ee-ow” (ears). They are often seen growing along with a white, coral shaped fungus called tremella fuciformis. Most often they are found after a rain in the cracks of dying or recently dead tree branches and trunks. In Hawaii, one can find them on the windward side and the Hamakua Coast on the Big Island in wet areas.

One book that has been very helpful to me to identify mushrooms is called Mushrooms Of Hawaii by Don E. Hemmes, Ph.D., and Dennis E. Desjardin, Ph.,D. I often take this book with me out into the jungle or conifer forests as a field guide.


Baby semi slug

It is very likely if you find one, you will find Wood Ears in abundance near by. Look for fresh ones without holes or decayed edges. Keep in mind that garlic snails, flat worms and semi slugs are often found on them.

Be extremely cautious by examining and discarding any with slime trails from slugs or with visible slugs because they are known as carriers of a particularly nasty parasite called Angiostrongylus cantenosis which causes rat lung worm in humans if ingested. Cooking food will kill the parasite.




Dried and fresh wood ears

Search on recently fallen branches or dying branches in trees. Wash off any dead wood, dirt or  debris and let air dry. You can use them right away in soup, stews, eggs or stir fry dishes.

In addition, you can set them in the sun for a day or two and they will shrivel up and dry quickly for storage. I have a jar in my pantry that has a long shelf life which I can rehydrate at any time.





tremella fuciformis


If you happen to spot the white jelly mushroom or tremella fuciformis it is particularly choice and delicious. Often you can find them in the same location as pepeiao. I like to saute them in butter then mix it with other foods. They like to grow on fallen avocado branches.

Tremella fuciformis and wood ear soak up other flavors but they have a unique quality that will add a crunchy texture to your dish.






Pycnoporus cinnabarinus or Cinnabar

Another Hawaiian mushroom to look for is Pycnoporus cinnabarinus.  It grows on dead branches and is bright red-orange. Too tough to eat but it can be used as a mushroom tea or dye.

I keep this dried in my pantry to add to tea. Its spore print is white. P. cinnabarinus is antimicrobial has been studied to show both anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.






Lepista tarda Peck. Wavy margin and grayish, purple color

Another choice edible to find is called Lepista tarda Peck. I usually find these in late fall (November) in tall grassy areas of my farm or with ground cover. When they are young they have a purple or pink hue, as they age the color fades. The spore deposit is white.

Pepeiao mushrooms are easy to identify and find. They may be the mushroom that starts you on a forage for more locally grown fungi.

Keep in mind that there may be permissions and permits for collecting. When I forage for mushrooms, I always go with the intention of a student and just try to identify the mushrooms that I find. I consider myself lucky if I find edible ones. Remember, if you are unsure of the type of mushroom you find, it is better to be safe than sorry.  In addition, when collecting always leave a behind a few so that they will reproduce again.

Below is an excellent soup to make with pepeiao or tremella mushrooms.


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Ahi fish soup with local, foraged mushrooms

Ahi Fish Soup


  • 1/2 cup of cooked white ahi meat
  • cooked soba noodles (to your liking)
  • seaweed
  • 1/2 juiced lime
  • 1 tbs of coconut oil
  • pepeiao and tremella mushrooms
  • 2 green onions chopped
  • 2 carrots chopped
  • 3 Asian eggplants
  • 1 quart of prepared ahi stock
  • 1 quart of water
  • 2 tbs of fish sauce
  • 1 tbs of shoyu or soy sauce
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • grated fresh ginger

I precook the noodles but I suppose you could just put them in the soup to cook. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until carrots are cooked and serve. The coconut oil and lime helps give the soup a delicious flavor and it also reduces that extreme fishy taste. See Kumu Aina’s blog on how to prepare ahi fish stock.





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2 thoughts on “Collecting Wood Ear (Pepeiao) Mushrooms in Hawaii

  1. I’ve never seen them up here in volcano but I’ve heard they grow on down koa so I’m off to the koa forests on mauna loa strip road.
    Old shroom hunter…

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