Truffle Look-alikes

We are regularly contacted by people who think they have found valuable, edible truffles. While some have successfully found them, many have actually found “truffle look-alikes”, usually, other types of fungi that have a passing resemblance to truffles. As well as fungi, these look-alikes may be plant galls or tubers. These truffle look-alikes should not be eaten as many will cause stomach upsets. Some people have found truffles, though they could be species that are not eaten. We are happy to confirm ID – see the “Found truffles in your garden?” page for details. Below the look-alikes are divided into those that look like black truffles and then white truffles.

Black Truffle “Look-alikes”

Cramp Balls or King Alfred’s Cakes

If what you have found is black (or pinkish-brown on younger ones) and:

  • Growing on an ash tree (above the ground)
  • When cut in half shows concentric circles

it is probably a type of fungus – a Cramp Ball or King Alfred’s Cake – do not eat!

Cramp Balls or King Alfred's cakes - one of many truffle look-alikes
Cramp Balls or King Alfred’s Cakes 

Dead Man’s Fingers

A 2018 news web site headline Rare TRUFFLES are growing near an Exeter supermarket grabbed my attention, however, a very quick glance at the photo told me they had got it very wrong. Fairly common inedible fungus found near an Exeter Supermarket or Rare TRUFFLES are NOT growing near an Exeter supermarket would have been more accurate.

UNTRUE - Rare TRUFFLES are growing near an Exeter supermarket. Actually Deadman's Fingers.
The headline said “Rare TRUFFLES are growing near an Exeter supermarket” but these are rather elderly examples of the inedible fungus Dead Man’s Fingers! Photo: Devon Live.

The finder told the paper “Quite frankly, when I saw it I knew what it was straight away,” she explained and “When I told friends, no one seemed to believe me! I broke off a piece to show them.”

They were actually rather dry Dead Man’s Fingers which are usually found on beech stumps or pieces of wood that are partially buried in the soil. Below is a better photo of some fresher ones.

Dead Man's Fingers.
Dead Man’s Fingers

Plant Tubers

Botanically, there are four main categories of plant bulb, one being a tuber. These are modified swollen roots. A potato is one example of a tuber. The below is a Cyclamen tuber.

Cyclamen tuber
Cyclamen tuber

This, we believe, is another plant tuber.

A type of plant gall.
Potentially, another type of plant tuber

White Truffle “Look-alikes”

Stinkhorns

You wouldn’t confuse a fully-grown Stinkhorn fungus with a truffle. Their “phallic” appearance and foul-smell are very distinctive. At their immature stage they are a gelatinous, spherical, or egg-shaped structure which is completely or partially buried underground so finders can confuse them with truffles.

The egg stage of a Stinkhorn.
Stinkhorn “eggs” before they have “erupted” out of the soil.

Plant Galls

Plant galls can be black or lighter in colour so have been confused with both black and white truffles. Black plant galls are shown (and introduced) above, lighter coloured ones here. The first one shown may be the truffle gall named because of the similarity of it’s skin to that of certain species of truffle. It is caused by The truffle gall wasp (Andricus quercusradicis) and was found on the roots of an English oak tree.

The Truffle Gall - an abnormal growths of the roots of an Oak tree caused by a wasp.
Truffle Gall

Below is another plant gall that was confused with a truffle. This one was found growing in a hedge above ground. It is a Crown gall.

Crown plant gall.
Crown Gall

Thank you to the finders of these truffle look-alikes for permission to use their photographs.