Friday, September 2, 2005
Chicken of the Woods
When and where found: You can find chicken mushrooms from May through November. They are so large and colorful that I often spot them from my car. I found two, both of the white-pored species, on August 10. One was just over the Carlisle border on Proctor Road in Chelmsford and the other was in Carlisle at the base of a standing oak tree on School Street. I harvested half of the School Street specimen and had enough to share with several friends for dinner. In June, I found a small but particularly tasty yellow-pored species growing on a fallen log in the Towle woods.
Edibility: This is a mushroom so vivid in color that is seems to scream of toxicity, but not only is it edible, it is one of the famous "foolproof four" mushrooms described by Clyde Christensen back in 1943. Clyde Christensen, a professor at the University of Minnesota, wanted to teach a somewhat fungi-phobic population that at least a few edible mushrooms are easy to identify and difficult to confuse with something poisonous. (The three others are Morels, Shaggy Manes, and Giant Puffballs — topics for another day.)
Cautions about Edibility: David Arora, in his book "Mushrooms Demystified" says that "nothing is foolproof but the sulfur shelf is definitely intelligence-proof and I trust that no one reading this book is a fool." Some people have an allergic reaction to chicken mushrooms so for the first few times, eat just a small amount. Don't eat it raw under any circumstances — it can cause a severely upset stomach. Specimens from some hosts, such as eucalyptus (not a problem in Carlisle), can cause stomach problems. I have not had any problems with specimens from oak trees. When it gets old and the top starts losing its color, it becomes tough and tasteless.
Distinguishing characteristics: The yellow-pored species, L. sulphureus, has fan-shaped shelves up to a foot across, where the top surface is yellow-orange or reddish-orange and the lower surface is bright yellow. The shelves are usually overlapping and can cover several feet along a tree trunk. The white-pored species, L. cincinnatus, also has fan-shaped lobes but they are usually arranged in a large rosette which can be up to 30 inches wide. The upper surface is a salmon color and the lower surface is white. It is found growing at or near the base of trees. It can appear to be growing on the ground but will be attached to the roots of the host tree.
The bad news: Well, first the good news: even if you don't eat wild mushrooms, the chicken mushroom is a visual treat to find. The bad news is that the fungus which produces this mushroom feeds on the heartwood of trees. It digests the cellulose leaving only the lignin, thereby creating a brown rot which makes the tree dry and fragile, so you do not want to see this mushroom on a favorite tree, on timber trees, or on a tree near your house. The mushrooms appear only after the fungus has been in the tree for several years and already caused extensive internal damage.
References: Tom Volk, professor of mycology at U. of Wisconsin, has a web site which includes a section called "mushroom of the month" (http://botit.botany.wisc.edu/toms_fungi/). Like Tom, it is informative and often entertaining. Also, Gary Lincoff, National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms; Integrated Pest Management web site at U. of California (www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/ search on Laetiporus)
Submissions and ideas for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged on any wildlife in town. Send a note to Kay Fairweather at 392 School Street, Carlisle MA 01741 or to email@example.com.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito