My friend Ronnie from Indiana sent me pictures of a fungus that is invading one of his oak trees. When I visited him recently, I got a chance to see it up close. This species is usually listed in mushroom books as Laetiporus sulphureus, and its common names include Chicken of the Woods and the Chicken Mushroom, supposedly because it tastes like chicken. Others report it tastes like crab or lobster. Another common name is Sulphur Shelf, because of its color and its habit of growing in stacked layers as shown in the photograph on the left. In any case, it is bad news for the host tree, because the fungus causes cubical brown rot. The interior of the tree eventually becomes brittle, and the tree is apt to fall in a high wind.
One of Ronnie’s photographs (right) shows the delicate yellow color of the newly-emerged fruiting bodies. This type of fungus has pores on its lower surface, from which the spores emerge, rather than gills like the common mushrooms sold in stores.
The last photograph (right) shows that the white flesh of Chicken of the Woods does look a bit like chicken meat. However, one should be very careful about eating wild mushrooms. Make absolutely sure your identification is correct, and start off with very small amounts. Even a nominally edible mushroom like Chicken of the Woods can cause problems for some people.