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Chicken of the Woods Mushroom Identification and Poisonous Look Alikes

Chicken Of The Woods Identification Look Alike

The Chicken of the Woods 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

laetiporus sulphereus

2)  Laetiporus Cincinnatus

laetiporus cincinnatus

3)  Laetiporus Conifericola

laetiporus conifericola

How to Identify Chicken of the Woods Mushroom?

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 when identifying Chicken of the Woods.

It is popular 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 is notable 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 Mushroom Identification

Laetiporus cincinnatus dead tree

Chicken of the Woods (COTW) are part of 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.

mushroom grow kit from spores

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 the young Chicken of the Woods.

COTW mushrooms don’t have true gills on the underside like the poisonous Jack O Lantern mushroom. Instead, it is a member of the black staining polypore family and it has thousands of tiny (microscopic) pores with a white spore print.

laetiporus pores

Where Do Chicken of the Woods Grow?

COTW 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 COTW 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 COTW mushroom from the below look alikes is:

  1. It is a polypore there for it does not have true gills or ridges like the Chanterelle or the Jack O Lantern mushrooms.
  2. It does not have a brown velvety look texture on the top of it like the Velvet Top fungus.
  3. When it is young it’s texture is very pliable while the Velvet Top fungus will be much more tough and brittle.

Mushrooms that Look Like Chicken of the Woods

1)  True Chanterelle Mushroom

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 black staining 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.

mushroom grow kit from spores

2)  Chicken of the Woods vs Jack O Lantern Mushroom (Poisonous)

jack-o-lantern mushroom

This mushroom is also similar in the orange color however this one has true 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

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 COTW mushrooms is the brownish velvety texture that you can see on the top surface of this mushroom.  A normal COTW 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 COTW.


Chicken of the Woods vs Hen of the Woods

One final thing to note is that we should not confuse Hen of the Woods vs Chicken of the Woods mushrooms as they are two completely different mushrooms.  Here is a picture to help a little in how to identify Hen of the Woods mushroom:

maitake

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 COTW mushroom.

The Hen of the Woods mushroom get’s it’s name because it looks like the feathers of a hen.  The COTW gets it’s name because it is a mushroom tastes like chicken.

Chicken of the Woods Nutrition and Health Benefits

The COTW 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:

mushroom grow kit from spores

chicken of the woods nutrition & 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:

how to cook and store chicken of the woods mushroom

Chicken of the Woods Characteristics and What Does Chicken of the Woods Look Like?

After going through a lot of chicken of the woods characteristics you should be able to accurately understand the chicken of the woods mushroom identification process and what is looks like…

When everything is clear, 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 contains protein and it is jam packed with medicinal health benefits.

If you liked this article please share it and let us know in the comments below!  Thanks.

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Chicken of the Woods Identification & Poisonous Look Alike

________________________________

FDA DISCLAIMER

Curative Mushrooms has to post the standard FDA Disclaimer…The statements made regarding medicinal mushrooms have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research. Curative Mushrooms is not making claims intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for or alternative to information from healthcare practitioners. Please consult your healthcare professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before consuming the medicinal mushrooms. The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act requires this notice.

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Curative Mushrooms nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.

_________________________________

Always looking for ways to improve the health of myself and my family led me to the discovery of medicinal mushrooms and the numerous health benefits they have on the body. My mission is to spread this knowledge and help as many people as possible.

This Post Has 127 Comments

    1. Thanks Ben, your horticultural expertise is appreciated by a semi-retired chef. You have opened up a new hobby for me. God bless bro.

  1. Hello,
    Do you know anything about this being found on deciduous vs conifers? I found some today but not sure what kind of tree they were growing on and some resources are suggesting they can be dangerous if growing on the wrong type of tree. Thanks!!!

    1. Hi Aly,

      You are correct in there being reports about the Chicken of the Woods that grow on conifers to cause some allergic reactions to include:

      1) Vomiting
      2) Chills
      3) Mild hallucinations

      There have not been any report of deaths though.

      Is believed that possibly the oil in the conifers gets absorbed into the mushroom which causes the reaction but there is no known actual toxin or anything.

      Since it appears to be an allergic reaction to the oil it may affect some people and not others.

      If you want to be safe you could avoid it completely or possibly try to cook a small sample and see if you experience any symptoms.

      Also, if your not sure of what type of tree it is you can post a picture here and we can help you identify it. Also, post some trees of the bark and the dead leaves around it.

      Please let us know what ends up happening!

      1. What you’re describing is a sensitivity, not an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction could actually be helped with antihistamines, but the kind of idiomatic symptoms you’re describing would not be helped at all.

    1. Hi Helena,

      From this distance it definitely looks like chicken of the woods.

      But to be sure please take some closer pictures of the top and bottom.

      Thanks.

  2. Hi Oliver,

    We found these in Southeastern Michigan this morning (9/20/2020) and need your help to identify them. We think they may be chicken of the woods but never having looked for them before we need to know exactly what they are. Thanks in advance for any and all help.

    Rob T.

    chicken of the woods look alike

  3. Hi Oliver,

    Here in another image of what we found this morning in S.E. Michigan. We need your help with identification of these. Thank you.

    chicken of the woods look alike

    1. It doesn’t look to have the organish coloration that is typical of Chicken of the Woods.

      Please send some pictures of the underside as well as the tree it was found on.

      Thanks.

    1. Hello Naomi,

      Nice Find!

      From that picture they definitely look like Chicken of the Woods but please take a couple more closer pictures of the top and underside.

      Thanks.

  4. Looks like chicken of the woods. Would like your opinion. Found them growing around an oak tree. Not actually on the oak tree… Within a meter of the base of the tree..

    Bondarzewia berkeley

    1. Hello,

      It appears to be Bondarzewia berkeleyi.

      It is still edible but most people recommend to stick to eating the softer edges on it and it can be a good meet substitute.

      Regards.

  5. I found some COTW, twice this week on the same trail. Different spots of course. I always leave a little behind!

  6. Hi! Founds these in my yard today. They started out a few days ago as an ivory colored fungus and today are almost neon orange. Chicken of the woods?

    chicken of the woods

  7. Hello,

    Came across what looks like a Chicken of the Woods today. I’ll need a ladder however to climb up there, are they known to grow up to roughly 20 feet off the ground?

    Many thanks

    chicken of the woods

  8. Last year these mushrooms were very light yellow in color so we weren’t sure if they were chicken of the wood or not. This year it’s clear. Enclosing some photos.

    COTW

  9. Hello Oliver,
    I’d like to find out what mushrooms these are and whether or not they’re edible. Found them in my backyard.

    honey fungus

  10. I also found these and I’d like to know what they are and whether or not they’re edible. Thanks for your help

    Coprinellus micaceus sensu lato

  11. I found this at my local park on the ground. Hoping to get a confirmation on ID and go back and harvest it! Thank you for the blog post, it really helps to know that you can distinguish it from other poisonous mushrooms.

    chicken of the woods

  12. So I went back to the park to harvest, and the fungi turned white! I broke a piece off and it evens smells like chicken! I found it growing on a dead tree trunk and it may have been a eucalyptus tree. When it turns white, is it still considered edible?

    1. Hi CiCi,

      They turn white or brownish tan when they get old but you can still eat them.

      Be careful with it growing on the eucalyptus tree though because some people have reported having an allergy when they eat mushrooms growing on those trees.

      The only way to know if to try a little and see.

      Regards!

  13. Hey Oliver! Can you confirm that these are chicken of the woods? Thank you so much, super generous of you to reply and help the amateur foragers feel confident 🙂

    laetiporus

  14. I found these the other day but didn’t know what they were. Is this a chicken of the woods that is turning old? One is at the base of the tree. Would it still be edible if too old?

    chicken of the woods

  15. I have a large patch of chicken of the woods in my back yard growing on a downed walnut tree. I don’t see walnut trees listed as an ok tree to find and harvest chicken of the woods. Is it? Thank you, Cindy

    1. Hi Cindy,

      Please be advised that chicken of the Woods will tend to grow on any type of hardwood tree to include Walnut.

      Regards!

  16. Great blog Oliver, thank you.
    Any idea what this one is. It’s about 6” diameter . It’s a real beauty. Growing on a poplar tree . I have several of them. This is in southern Ontario Canada

  17. Hello, I found these next to my drive ion my property. I was hoping they were Chicken-of -the-woods but unfortunately not since they have gills. Any idea of what they are? They are on a downed pretty rotted tree, probably an white oak but not sure. Help! I’d love to start gathering mushrooms on my property.

    1. Hello, I found these next to my drive on my property. I was hoping they were Chicken-of -the-woods but unfortunately not since they have gills. Any idea of what they are? They are on a downed pretty rotted tree, probably an white oak but not sure. Help! I’d love to start gathering mushrooms on my property.

  18. I haven’t found anything describing the range of COW. I’ve collected it in the east. Does it grow on the west coast?

  19. Hi Oliver

    Thanks for your fascinating and inspiring website. I live on the East coast of South Africa in a sub tropical forest environment and found this growing in my garden . I’m hoping you can help with identification and edibleness. A friend has said it’s chicken of the woods but I’m not sure. It doesn’t have gills and smells very mushrooms, is pliable except near the stalk.https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10157888698672823&id=744147822

    Best wishes
    Lee

      1. Also takes four prints each time besides top and bottom and underneath and cut the stem in half also and see what’s inside if anything. What about taste and smell? Give us those clues too.

  20. please is this that chicken mushroom i have a lot growing on a downed huge oak tree from hurricane Micheal 2 yrs. ago I’m in south west FL.
    site won’t let me load pic please Help

  21. Hello Oliver,

    We wanted to make sure this is Chicken-of-the -woods. My wife and I had a discussion about it on our walk.

  22. Great article. Thank you. Spotted what I’m sure is COTW in the woods behind my house. Huge.
    I need to get a closer look at top and underside now.

  23. New to this and interested in learning a lot more. So is this a good find? Chicken of the woods? And should I harvest this now or wait longer? Can freeze this raw? Thank you

  24. Hey Oliver,
    I found this guy today and would like to know what it is and if it is edible please 🙂 I found it at the base of a tree (but not growing on the tree more like a foot away from it.

  25. Found these in a hardwood forest coming out of the ground but the ground looked like it had a bit of wood in it. Cluster weighed over 6 lbs. White smooth undersides. I think it’s Laetiporous Cincinnatus but not sure. Color is more of an orange hue on top than as seen in the pic.

  26. I have a black cherry tree that grows chicken of the woods mushrooms every year. Since yesterday a chicken of the woods mushroom sprouted that is approximately one (1) foot across and looks to weigh about 3 pounds. A couple years ago I had a similar mushroom I sold for $75. This time I’ve been looking for “current price per pound for chicken of the woods mushrooms” and not having much luck finding info except for dried mushrooms and plugs. I’d like to sell this beautiful mushroom that popped up literally overnight. The one I sold before the buyer came to my house and I instructed him how to cut it from the bottom of the tree. Any idea where or how to properly price this item? I know IF you can find a restaurant that serves them, they’re a very expensive entree. Thank you for any help you can provide. Apparently my pictures have too many mb’s and wouldn’t send.

  27. Hi, Oliver,
    I have lived adjacent to a hardwood forest reserve in the suburbs for 35 years. With climate change, we have had an inordinate amount of rain this year. This weeks inch or so has given us this fungus that has just popped up two days ago on an oak stump that fell down a couple of years ago. I think it’s chicken of the woods! Do you agree? If so I’m gonna run out there and grab some of it. My dad was a big mushroom hunter, but was cautious, and stuck to puffballs and morels. Definitely no gills underneath.

  28. Hello Oliver! I just found this site, thank you so much for taking the time to comment! Attached are some pics of what I believe is L. Cincinnatus; it was brighter orange yesterday but I was only able to go back and harvest today. What do you think?

  29. Great article…I have to believe that this is Chicken of the Woods…but the outer edges are smooth and not wavy. Is it just an age thing, or are they not always as wrinkly as the pictures portray? Thanks!

  30. Greetings,

    Checking if this is an edible mushroom. About 4 inches diameter. Solid underside as well. Was growing on an old American elm stump. Thanks.

  31. Hello Oliver. Can these COW grow out of ground where ash tree was downed and stump ground. It has been at least 5 yrs since stump ground and these just showed up this year? Thanks. Paul

  32. Hi Oliver, I think I found my first Chicken yesterday! Very excited, and from the research I’ve done I’m convinced that I’ve correctly identified it, but would you be able to confirm?
    Thanks so much!

  33. Hi Oliver,
    I sure would appreciate photos of the back of Chicken of the Woods/Sulfur Shelf Fungus. It seems that people often describe what the underside/back looks like, but never show photos. I’ve heard it is supposed to be white and have pores. What I picked today is a nice lemony yellow on the back. I’m also not sure what ‘pores’ is supposed to mean. are there just a few or is it supposed to be covered on pores, like human skin is? I sure don’t want to be gathering the wrong stuff and making myself ill!
    Thanks,
    Cat >^..^<
    ( in the Appalachian Mountains of Clay County, KY, formerly from San Diego, CA.)

  34. I just came across these during a hike where I was exploring. I think they could be chicken of the woods but the color is off and it’s winter so they were a little hard. What is you opinion

  35. I’ve read that chicken of the woods can sometimes grow on hemlock trees. Wouldn’t that be dangerous to consume those on that tree?

  36. I live in Southern Oregon and depending on the year, harvest up to 7 different delicious mushrooms! So far this fall it’s been Shaggy Mane, Lions Mane, Chicken of the Woods and Matsutaki. Here’s a Shaggy just popping up.

  37. Hi Oliver. I have a different mushroom question. Hope it is okay. I found your site because I needed to identify definite COTWs I found on my walk this week and excited trying them sauteed in small amounts.

    Now for odd question. I have collected a quantity of Turkey Tail mushrooms, but most were not real fresh on the tree. I have cleaned and dried them. Will older mushrooms still have any medicinal value if I powdered them for addition to green tea?

    Thanks,
    Dave J

    1. Hi, David. Jessie here from the Support team.

      There’s no scientific data yet that examines the potency of Turkey Tail mushroom based on freshness. But it is recommended to dry them out as possible to prevent mold. Please inspect your mushrooms to ensure no signs of insects and other contamination before consumption.

      You may also refer to this video (Simple Turkey Tail Mushroom Identification Tips and Uses)➡️ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ1ko964djo All the best! 🙂

  38. I found this today growing at the base of a dead stump in my yard in Arkansas. My “SEEK” phone app identified it as Hen of the Woods. It grows there every year. I cooked some up by oven roasting it and great flavor but the texture was very tough and fibrous. Due to the pale color of it, was it just too mature to be tender?

    1. Hi, Lauren. That looks like Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa), which usually grows at the base of hardwood trees during fall.

      Have you checked its underside? The underside looks like pale cream pores.

      Hen of the Woods is best cooked when young. It will develop a strong acrid smell as it matures and become leathery. Here’s also a helpful video for identifying this mushroom.

    1. Hi, Mark. Click “Choose File” at the bottom left of the blog page, select the photo you wish to upload, and “post comment.”

  39. Found this on a pile of old logs near my mom’s place. Now that I know it’s edible, I’m going to go harvest it. Thanks for the info!

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