Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chicken of the Woods?

Looking out of the window at dusk yesterday, I saw something at the base of our nearest oak tree that looked like some sort of crumpled paper. It turned out to be mushrooms – big ones! Each cluster by itself is wider than my two hands side-by-side. They’re a lovely shade of cream and pale orange, looking not unlike piles of rumpled pancakes.

I think this variety of mushroom is Chicken of the Woods. But I am no mycologist. If you have found this post because you are trying to identify your own mushroom, please do not rely on my guesswork. Eating mushrooms from the wild is dangerous business. Just for the record, I won’t be eating these – I’ll just admire. It was nice of it to grow right at the edge of the trees for me!

So. . . Chicken of the Woods. It sounds like there are several varieties of closely-related mushroom all known as Chicken of the Woods. These mushrooms are some of the most easy-to-identify in this area, as well as tasty. The “true” Chicken of the Woods is Laetiporus sulphureus. It is a parasitic and saprobic mushroom, meaning it’ll grow on decaying stuff or it will grow on living trees. It sounds like it is most often found well above the ground on decaying stumps. The related species Laetiporus cincinnatus prefers the roots of oak trees. That sounds, and looks, more like what I’ve got here, but it also sounds like Laetiporus cincinnatus just doesn’t occur this far to the east.

Either way, this might be bad news for the oak tree that these are growing around. If the mushroom is using the tree as a host, the chickens are the fruiting body of a well-established mycelium, so picking the mushrooms would do nothing to help the tree. But the tree looks healthy, so maybe, hopefully, it is just the decaying stuff around the tree that the mycelium is growing in.

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