With its bright orange appearance and meaty taste, this wild mushroom is hard to miss and highly coveted by mushroom hunters. Fortunately for foragers, this spectacular polypore is easy to spot by its large clusters of bright orange and yellow pores.
Its taste has been described as similar to that of chicken meat. Growing in fan-shaped clusters broadly attached to dead and dying trees, chicken of the woods mushrooms (also known by their Latin name of Laetiporus sulphureus) grow in overlapping brackets.
These fungi’s genus name Laetiporus means “Bright” or “pleasing,” while the suffix “-porus” means “many pores.” So it comes as no surprise why Laetiporus sulphureus – meaning many bright yellow, orange pores – is the blanket term that refers to all species of this species with its sulphur shelf.
Fast Facts About Chicken of the Woods
- Chicken of the woods are known as bracket fungus due to the way they grow on the trunks of trees. Also, because of their color, they are sometimes called sulphur shelf.
- Chicken of the woods are edible and considered a delicacy due to its rich flavor and meaty texture. Part of their namesake is thanks to their flavor, which many have described as similar to chicken.
- Chicken of the woods are actually parasitic, causing brown rot in living, dying, and dead trees. This is because the fruiting bodies don’t develop until the fungus attacks the host tree.
- These mushrooms are most commonly found on oak trees, cherry trees, beech, chestnut, yew, eucalyptus, and conifers.
- This fungus was discovered and identified as a new species in 1789 by French botanist Jean Baptiste Francois Bulliard. Still, it wasn’t given the name “chicken of the woods” until 1920 by famous American mycologist William Alphonso Murrill.
Why Are They Called Chicken of the Woods?
This mushroom’s chicken namesake comes from its taste and appearance. Also known as chicken mushroom and chicken fungus, chicken of the woods, have individual brackets that resemble ruffled feathers when growing on the side of a tree.
How do I Identify Chicken of the Woods?
Chicken of the woods are edible wild mushrooms that grow in fan shaped tiers along trees such as oak, cherry, beech, yew, and other hardwoods.
They are saprobic and parasitic and feed on dying and dead wood, stumps, and even on the tissue of living trees.
Depending on the variety, they have thick flesh and can have yellow or white pores.
The colors chicken of the woods appear in are yellow, orange, pale yellow, bright orange, and bright yellow. Older specimens can have a reddish tinge. Depending on the variety, the fungi can have yellow or white pores.
When foraging, these mushrooms’ bright pores are easy to spot, making them a great species for beginning foragers.
Chicken of the woods don’t have stems, as they are anchored into the sides of trees.
The fan shaped caps of this large polypore grow in overlapping brackets on the sides of a dead log or dying tree trunk, either high up or down at the base of the tree.
Chicken of the woods mushroom caps have a tiny round or oval tubes on the underside of the cap.
White and sometimes pale yellow. It can be difficult to obtain a spore print, as the caps aren’t as distinguished as other species.
Young chicken of the woods feel spongy and, when squeezed, produce a clear or yellow liquid. Their upper sides have a soft, velvety texture, not unlike suede, while their undersides are yellow and porous. This is when the chickens are ready to be harvested and are in prime eating condition.
As the mushrooms age and become fully grown, they develop a hard, corky, and woody texture that can be somewhat unpalatable when cooked.
Summer and fall, usually June through November, are the best seasons to find chicken of the woods.
However, some specimens of this large polypore persist well into the winter, especially if you live in a warmer temperate climate.
The fungus grows in the woods throughout Canada, the United States, Europe, and parts of Asia. It is most often found growing on or at the base of dying or dead hardwood trees and conifer stumps.
They have also occasionally been spotted growing on living trees.
Are there Different Kinds of Chicken of the Woods?
This bracket fungus grows in many regions throughout the world, including the U.S. and Canada, Europe, and some parts of Asia.
While Laetiporus sulphureus is the name most commonly used to refer to all chicken of the wood’s varieties, there are some slight differences.
In the United States, these mushrooms grow on both the east and west coast. The various Laetiporus species in the U.S. are listed as follows:
West Coast Varieties
- Laetiporus gilbbertsonii – grows on eucalyptus and oak
- Laetiporus conifericola – grows on conifers
East Coast Varieties
- Laetiporus sulphureus – has yellow pores and grows on conifers
- Laetiporus huroniensis – yellow-pored, and grows on oak
- Laetiporus cincinnatus – white-pored, grows on oak
Do Chicken of the Woods Have Any Lookalikes?
There are some different species that are sometimes mistaken for chicken of the woods.
The only resemblance chanterelles share with chicken mushrooms is the bright yellow or orange color. This is because chanterelles grow out of the ground instead of on trees, and the species isn’t a polypore.
While the gills aren’t very distinct on chanterelles, they are present, which helps distinguish the two species.
Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom (Poisonous)
The Jack-O-lantern is the mushroom species that look most like chicken of the woods, so make sure you can identify each before foraging.
The Jack-O-Lantern has a bright orange fruiting body, lending to its name, and its thick caps resemble the fan-shaped clusters of chicken mushrooms. They also grow near the bases of dead or dying hardwoods and are bioluminescent, meaning they glow in the dark.
However, the main difference between these two species is the presence of gills. Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms have distinct gills on the underside of their caps, while chicken of the woods have pores.
Velvet Top Fungus (Inedible But Not Poisonous)
This polypore shares almost all the same characteristics of chicken of the woods save for its color. You can spot it in the same conditions as its edible orange lookalike, such as on the bases and trunks of dead or dying hardwoods. They even share the same texture and structure as chicken mushrooms.
Its color, however, is a dark, velvety brown that can in no way be confused with chicken mushrooms.
Don’t eat Velvet top fungus – while it isn’t poisonous, it also isn’t edible.
Where can I Find Chicken of the Woods?
Chicken of the woods can usually be found on fallen logs and other dead wood. Their thick yellow orange flesh makes them easy to spot, especially against the dark color of rotting wood.
How Do Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms Grow?
These mushrooms grow in overlapping brackets on the bases or trunks of hardwood trees.
Can I Cultivate Chicken of the Woods Myself?
While commercial cultivation has so far proved unsuccessful, it is possible to cultivate chicken of the woods in your own yard by finding a fallen log that produces chickens and bringing it to your yard.
As long as your climate allows for chickens, the mushrooms will continue fruiting on the log, providing you with a regular supply.
When is Chicken of the Woods Foraging Season?
Summer and fall, usually June through November, are the best seasons to find chicken of the woods in peak condition. However, keep in mind that while finding chicken of the woods is easy, finding them in prime condition for cooking and eating isn’t nearly as simple.
Young chickens are much tastier than the older specimens, as age can cause chicken of the woods to develop a tough, leathery texture and bland taste.
Bugs frequently attack chickens of the woods, which can be difficult to tell at first glance. The best way to check for bugs is to cut into the mushroom all the way to where it connects with the tree trunk and see if there is any visible tunneling, like the kind you would see in an ant hill.
Important note: chicken of the woods is only safe for human consumption if you find it growing from a deciduous tree, such as oak, cherry, or beech. DO NOT eat chicken of the woods if it is growing on yew trees, eucalyptus trees, or any other conifer or evergreen, as it will absorb some of the trees’ poison.
All wild mushrooms should be cooked prior to eating.
How Do I Harvest Chicken of the Woods?
If you find young and tender chickens and have already checked them for bugs, you harvest them by cutting them at the point they connect with the tree.
Make sure not to eat chickens that are growing on conifers or evergreens. They likely absorbed the poison from the tree and will likely cause severe gastrointestinal distress.
Only harvest chickens from deciduous tree species.
What Do Chicken of the Woods Taste Like?
While chicken of the woods has often been hailed for its rich flavor and lemony, meaty taste, not unlike chicken, some report a flavor more akin to crab or lobster.
Are There Any Risks Associated With Eating Chicken of the Woods?
Chicken of the woods can also cause gastrointestinal upset in some people, especially when consumed with alcohol, though not everyone will experience this distress.
If you are eating it for the first time, take just a small serving and evaluate how you feel afterwards.
While rare, chicken of the woods can cause a mild allergic reaction in some people in the form of a numbing sensation in the lips and mouth.
Keep in mind that these kinds of allergic reactions are very rare and not life threatening. What is more common is gastrointestinal upset.
How Do I Cook Chicken of the Woods?
This mushroom is a great substitute for meat, with a taste and texture reminiscent of chicken with lemon.
To clean them, wipe the caps with a damp cloth. If you rinse them in the sink, they will absorb too much water and be difficult to cook.
This type of mushroom can be fried, blanched, sauteed, or baked. If sautéing, make sure to use a minimal amount of cooking oil, as this spongy mushroom will absorb a lot of oil and make it difficult to digest.
They can be added with chicken stock to the rice, making a superb and flavorful broth for risotto, casseroles, curry, or other rice or egg dishes.
They can be sauteed with white wine, garlic, and olive oil, which will enhance the flavor of this mushroom without overwhelming it.
Always cook them thoroughly before you eat chickens, as undercooked or raw ones will likely cause severe gastrointestinal distress.
How Do I Preserve Chicken of the Woods?
If you’re lucky enough to find chicken of the woods in prime condition to eat, it’s likely you’ll harvest more than you can eat fresh. It is important to learn how to preserve the fungus.
You can store raw, unused chicken of the woods in the refrigerator for up to a week in a dry paper bag.
If there is any bug damage to the fungus, even if it’s minimal, you should cook and eat them within a few days of harvesting, as any bug damage to the fungus will cause it to degrade faster in the refrigerator.
Don’t freeze raw chickens – the moisture inside of them will expand and destroy the taste and texture.
Sauté before freezing. They must be cooked in order to remove any excess moisture and lock in the flavor when you eventually thaw them.
While a lesser-known preservation technique, pickling is considered one of the best ways to preserve chicken of the woods. You can eat them cold directly from the jar or in a salad along with the pickling liquid to serve as a delicious vinaigrette.