Chicken of the Woods Mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus)
One can easily spot the chicken of the woods mushroom by its impressive size and vibrant yellow-orange colors. This large polypore has surprised many a nature lover the first time they found it! Yet did you know they’re also edible, and considered a delicacy in some parts of the world?
This mushroom has a lemony, meaty taste. Some think it tastes like its chicken namesake; others describe the flavor as being more like crab or lobster. Whatever your opinion, the chicken fungus makes a great substitute for meat in almost any dish.
It’s important to note that this is one of those mushrooms that sometimes causes gastric distress in certain people. If you want to avoid a possible stomach misadventure, only try a little bit your first time to see what it does to you. Also always avoid chicken of the woods growing on conifers, eucalyptus, or cedar trees, as these are reported to contain toxins that can make people sick.
Even if you never plan on eating one, this is a fascinating mushroom. Let’s learn a little more, starting with some basic chicken facts. We’ll then move on to mushroom identification tips for this species, and close with some cooking advice.
(Note that people often confuse this species with the hen of the woods, which is a completely different mushroom. More info about the hen of the woods, or maitake, is here.)
This mushroom is a polypore, meaning they disperse spores through small pores (holes) on the underside of their caps. You can learn more about poroid mushrooms in this article.
The different species of the chicken of the woods mushroom are both saprotrophic (feeding on dead trees), and parasitic (attacking and killing live trees by causing the wood to rot). Whatever their method of feeding, you’ll always find them growing on or at the base of a living or dead tree.
Chickens are easily recognized by their large clusters of overlapping brackets, and bright yellow-orangish colors. The colors fade as the mushroom grows older.
Many polypores are also medicinal mushrooms, although there hasn’t been much research done on this one. One study has indicated that it inhibits bacterial growth.
Other names are chicken fungus, chicken mushroom, and sulphur shelf. The genus is Laetiporus.
There are about twelve species of chicken of the woods in the Laetiporus genus. This article focuses on Laetiporus sulphureus, the species that grows on hardwoods where I live in Eastern North America. You may also hear about these species: