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The Amateur Mycologist #8 - Laetiporus sulphureus - Chicken of the Woods

The Amateur Mycologist #8 - Laetiporus sulphureus - Chicken of the Woods

These posts are not for foraging. They are intended for entertainment and educational purposes only. These posts are not a field guide nor comprehensive in any way - their accuracy is not assured in any way. Do not eat wild mushrooms unless you are a professional or have a wealth of personal experience with a specific species. Do not make any foraging decisions based on these posts.

These Posts Contains No Information Regarding Edibility Or Toxicity

Last week we talked about the Destroying Angel, a deadly toxic mushroom with a non-threatening, unremarkable look.

Laetiporus sulphureus, aka the chicken of the woods, could not be more different. It grows on dead or sickly trees, often right at eye height in giant collections of mushroom caps. But of course the mushroom's most obvious trait is its absurd coloring - the same neon orange color as a warning sign or a safety vest. Whatever else L.sulphureus is, no one can call it subtle.

When you see a Laetiporus species in the woods, often even from long distances away, you will know almost immediately. No other mushroom looks quite like a Laetiporus, and few mushrooms attract the eye so readily. After all, how often do you see that neon orange color in a forest?

However, although Laetiporus is an exceedingly easy genus to identify, figuring out the specific species without genetic testing can actually be fairly difficult.

To illustrate how hard it can be, compare L.sulphureus with the genetically different species L.cincinnatus

First, look at the two pictures above. Those pictures are both L.sulphureus, which eats the heart wood of dead or sick trees and eventually turns the wood into a dark brown dust. As a result, this species tends to grow higher up on the trunks of trees, usually oaks, primarily in the North Eastern US. It has a pore based spore surface which is yellowish in color.

This photo is not L.sulphureus but L.cincinnatus, which looks almost identical, but feeds on the root system of the tree and therefore will grow at or near the ground. It also has a pore based spore surface, but it's pores are whitish instead of yellowish.

Compare those two pictures and see if you can tell the difference. Probably not - and things get more complicated when you add in at least three other genetically distinct Laetiporus species in the US alone. In fact, it was only in 2001, with the advent of genetic testing, that even the most informed mycologists in the world first discovered so many Laetiporus species even existed.

For me, encountering a Laetiporus species is a delightful act of discovery. You won't soon forget your first encounter and you may find yourself puzzling over exactly which species you had the pleasure of finding.

Macroscopic Features:

  • Cap = Knobby at first and yellow - maturing into a flat bright orange shelf with light/yellow edges, growing out the side of trees above the roots, off the ground, or on a portion of a fallen tree which would have been off the ground before it fell. 2 to 23inches (5 to 60cm) in diameter. Usually multiple caps growing in sometime very large shelf forms. Smooth surface at first, to thin wrinkles when mature. Color fades when old.

  • Spore surface = yellow pores.

  • Flesh = When young/fresh very tender and lets out a clear or yellowish juice when cut. Strong fungus odor. When older dries out, becomes brittle and fibrous, taste may become sour.

  • Stem ("stipe") = None

  • Spore Print = White

  • Ecology ("How it grows.") = Parasitic and Saprobic. Parasitic means it acts like a parasite and leeches resources from another organism, in this case dying or sick oak trees. Saprobic means the mushroom is also capable of surviving on dead tissue - in this case dead oak trees. In either case, this L.sulphureus eats the heart wood of the tree, turning it the wood a brown rot in the process.

  • Distribution = Genetically, in Europe and North Eastern US. Several lookalike species can primarily be differentiated by genetics - but L.huroniensis grows in the Great Lakes region and potentially on conifers - and L.cincinnatus grows and feeds only on the root system of trees. A lookalike also exists on the west coast of the US, but is not genetically the same species.

  • Other Traits = A young specimen will exude a clear or yellowish water in some quantity when cut.

Disclaimer 2

The only 100% way to avoid being hurt by a wild mushroom is not to eat a wild mushroom. These posts are not field guides - they are intended for the mycology enthusiast, not the forager. If you want to forage mushrooms there are professional resources available to that end online as well as local mycological societies all over the world which you should connect to for guidance.

For The Online Mycokey program look Here

For a Glossary Of Relevant Mycological Terms, Micheal Kuo's Website Provides

Information Sources: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/laetiporus_sulphureus.html https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laetiporus_sulphureus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laetiporus_huroniensis https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laetiporus http://blog.mycology.cornell.edu/2006/10/31/eating-the-chicken-of-the-woods/

Photo Sources: [1]By voir ci-dessous / see below (Self-photographed) [2]By Gargoyle888. (Own work.) [3]By Dan Molter (shroomydan) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons [4][By Rror (Own work)CC BY-SA 3.0 [5]By voir ci-dessous / see below (Self-photographed)CC BY-SA 3.0

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