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The Chicken of the Woods mushroom key identification characteristics make it easy to identify and distinguish from it’s poisonous look alike.
Chicken of the woods mushroom is a member of the laetiporus genus and 3 most common wild edible species are:
1) Laetiporus Sulphureus
2) Laetiporus Cincinnatus
3) Laetiporus Conifericola
While they all differ a little in the trees they like to grow on and the way they look, in general, they look very similar.
It is commonly referred to as the Chicken of the Woods mushroom, Chicken mushroom, Chicken fungus and Sulphur Shelf mushroom.
The Chicken of the Woods mushroom is a great mushroom for beginner or novice mushroom hunters because it is a very easy mushroom to spot. This is due to it being a bright yellow and orange color that can easily be seen form far away.
It is a mushroom that you don’t want to eat raw though because it has been shown to cause gastric distress when not cooked before eating.
Not only that but another cool thing about this mushroom is they don’t really have any look alikes that are that similar. We will go over the 3 mushrooms that resemble this mushroom the closest but you will soon see how easy it is to distinguish it from those.
Chicken of the Woods Identification
Chicken of the Woods are part of what’s called bracket fungi. This means they have a fan-shaped to almost semi circular shape. You will also notice that the cap is a little wavy in appearance.
The texture can range from smooth to finely-wrinkled with a velvety feel. While young, they come in either bright yellow or bright orange while there are some that develop a reddish brown coloration.
When they mature, the brightness fades away. When young the flesh of the cap is soft yet thick with a watery feel but as it matures, the whole cap becomes tough and crumbles easily. Therefor it is better to harvest this mushroom while it is young and moist.
Chicken of the Woods mushrooms don’t have gills on the underside like the poisonous Jack-O-Lantern mushroom. Instead, it is a member of the polypore family and it has thousands of tiny (microscopic) pores with a white spore print.
Chicken of the Woods mushroom are saprotrophic in nature, so they love to grow at the base of dead or dying hardwood trees and decompose them.
You wont find Chicken of the Woods in an open field. They are commonly found growing on standing or fallen oak trees but you can find them growing on just about any type of hardwood tree. If a hardwood tree has recently fallen then give it a couple years because they like well decomposed trees.
You will also tend to see this mushroom growing in the same location year after year. So, once you find it you can keep returning to get more.
The mushroom has a vast distribution throughout the United States, North America, Canada, Europe, and some areas in Asia. Fruiting season is typically in Autumn but can be found during spring (June) all the way to Autumn (December). That’s a whopping 6 months out of the year that you can find it!
3 Chicken of the Woods Look-Alikes
One of the biggest determining factors to identify the Chicken of the Woods mushroom from the below look alikes is:
- It is a polypore there for it does not have gills or ridges like the Chanterelle or the Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms.
- It does not have a brown velvety look texture on the top of it like the Velvet Top fungus.
- When it is young it’s texture is very pliable while the Velvet Top fungus will be much more tough and brittle.
1) Chanterelle Mushroom
This mushroom does not really look like the Chicken of the Woods very much except that it is similar in the orange color. Even if you harvest this mushroom by accident it is not poisonous and would still be a great find because it is a choice edible mushroom.
The biggest characteristic to distinguish this mushroom from the Chicken of the Woods mushroom is it has ridges on the underside (which kinda resemble gills). This looks nothing like a polypore mushroom on the underside.
You will also tend to see the Chanterelle growing near trees and coming out of the ground so they wont normally be growing directly out of the tree like the Chicken of the Woods mushroom will be.
2) Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom (Poisonous)
This mushroom is also similar in the orange color however this one has gills on the underside while the Chicken of the Woods has tiny pores. So just check the underside and you should be safe.
This one will grow in dense clusters but will be found growing at the base of dead or drying hardwood trees similar to the Chicken of the Woods mushroom. It is also bioluminescent meaning that it can glow in the dark.
Don’t accidentally eat this one though because it is poisonous and you will have a rough couple of days if you eat it.
3) Velvet Top Fungus
This one grows in similar conditions as the Chicken of the Woods mushroom and will be found growing at the base of dead or dying hardwood trees.
The biggest distinguishing characteristic to tell it from the Chicken of the Woods mushrooms is the brownish velvety texture that you can see on the top surface of this mushroom. A normal Chicken of the Woods mushroom will just be an orangish yellow color.
This one is not poisonous however it is not edible either. It has a very tough texture unlike the soft and pliable texture of the Chicken of the Woods.
Chicken of the Woods vs. Hen of the Woods
One final thing to note is the Chicken of the Woods mushroom is not to be confused with the Hen of the Woods (Maitake) mushroom as they are two completely different mushrooms. Here is a picture of the Hen of the Woods mushroom:
Even though it is not a look alike I wanted to put it here because people tend to confuse the name of it with the Chicken of the Woods mushroom.
The Hen of the Woods mushroom get’s it’s name because it looks like the feathers of a hen. The Chicken of the Woods gets it’s name because it taste like chicken.
Chicken of the Woods Nutrition and Health Benefits
The Chicken of the Woods mushroom is jam pack with protein and loaded with some medicinal benefits that most people don’t realize they have. Check out another article we wrote about their nutrition and health benefits:
How To Cook & Store Chicken of the Woods
One of the cool think about this mushroom is that you can cook it just like you do many other chicken recipes and that it will taste just like chicken. Basically it is a great substitute for Chicken.
When it comes to storing this mushroom it is unique in that most other mushroom needs to be cooked before frozen while this one doesn’t. Check out another article we have written on how to cook and store the Chicken of the Woods mushroom:
When everything is ‘said and done’, this is a great mushroom for people new to mushroom foraging to hunt for. The look alikes that it does have are very easy to tell apart.
It is also one of the easiest mushroom to find and identify because of it’s bright orange and yellow colors. Not to mention that you can find this mushroom growing for almost half of the year!
It is well worth hunting for this mushroom as well because of it tastes amazing, it is loaded with protein and it is jam packed with medicinal health benefits.
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