Chicken-of-the-Woods Fungus

2016 January 30

Our Department Coordinator at work brought in this enormous fungus fruiting body on August 20, 2015. The top of the counter it is on is about 18 inches wide, so this thing is getting close to two feet across.

She was pretty sure that it was a “Chicken of the Woods”, which is an edible fungus, but she wanted a second opinion before trying to eat it[1]. So she asked me about it.

I, of course, had no idea, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t get some pictures, look it up, and see what we could find out.

So anyway, yes. After poking around on the Internet for a while, we agreed that it was, indeed, a Chicken of the Woods, Laetiporus sulphureus. While some edible fungi are dangerous to eat from the wild because they closely resemble other, highly-toxic species, that isn’t a problem in this case. There is really nothing else that looks anything like the genus Laetiporus. There are some reports of people having mild reactions to them, like swollen lips (and occasionally nausea, dizziness, and disorientation), but this may be more from toxins that the fungus gets from the tree and not that it produces itself. These mostly grow on standing hardwoods. Like other fungi, the part we see is just the fruiting body that grows out to spread spores. The actual fungus is growing inside the tree. In this case, the fungus causes “brown heart rot”, hollowing out the tree[2]. So, if you see this fruiting body on the side of a tree, the tree is probably not going to be standing much longer.

One thing about wood-rotting fungi: they are actually digesting the cellulose, a trick that can’t be managed by animals without the help of certain bacteria in their guts. But, as long as it isn’t toxic, the fungus is digestible by animals. So when we eat mushrooms, we are actually eating wood by proxy.

[1] Once we decided that it was, in fact, an edible fungus, she took it home and cooked it up. Unfortunately, she reported back that it didn’t taste very good. They evidently only taste decent when they are quite young. Judging from the size, this one was pretty old and not too desirable any more. Although, this fungus usually fruits every year (at least until the tree falls down), so she could check the same spot again next year.

[2] There are supposedly a lot of insects that live inside of hollow trees, but I haven’t found many so far. Most of the hollow stumps we find are just filled with wood chips and dust, even if we had just pushed them over.

4 Responses
  1. January 30, 2016

    Hmm. If you fried it and served it with waffles, you’d have a fungus-soul food dish.

  2. January 30, 2016

    Well even if it didn’t taste very good, it’s certainly beautiful to behold. And also, this bit

    “So when we eat mushrooms, we are actually eating wood by proxy.”

    was extremely fascinating to me! It seems obvious now that I think about it, but I’d never really thought about it before. 🙂

  3. Jim permalink
    February 2, 2016

    At a previous home, years ago, we had a box elder with a rotted center from a broken limb resulting from storm damage. The pocket usually contained giant larvae from large scarab beetles. A couple times we saw the adults. I can’t remember now if they were rhinoceros beetles, Hercules beetles or stag beetles. Wish I had taken pictures!

  4. September 7, 2018

    this very much interests my fueling irritation to mushrooms

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