Laetiporus sulphureus (Bull.) Murrill - Chicken-of-the-Woods

Phylum: Basidiomycota - Class: Agaricomycetes - Order: Polyporales - Family: Polyporaceae

Laetiporus sulphureus - Chicken of the Woods

Laetiporus sulphureus, with its strident orange or sulphur-yellow colouring, is hard to miss. Known as Chicken-of-the-Woods or the Sulphur Polypore, this bracket fungus is seen most often on beech, oak, chestnut and less frequently on cherry and other hardwoods. Only rarely are these impressive fungi associated with conifers other than Yew.

Sometimes, specimens of this large polypore persist through the winter and are able to continue fruiting during the following year.

Young and edible fruitbodies of Laetiporus sulphureus - Chicken of the Woods

The specimens shown above are young and their flesh is tender; with age they become tougher before collapsing and decaying into a blackish mush.

Distribution

Infrequent in many parts of Britain and Ireland, Chicken-of-the Woods is locally common and sometimes a real pest in Yew woodlands. This or very similar species also occur across northern Europe and in some parts of the USA.

Although usually seen on standing trunks of trees this polypore also grows on fallen trunks and less frequently on large detached branches.

Taxonomic history

Originally described in 1789 by French botanist and mycologist Jean Baptiste Francois (Pierre) Bulliard, this spectacular polypore was given its current name in 1920 by the famous American mycologist William Alphonso Murrill (1869 - 1967).

Etymology

The specific epithet sulphureus is a reference to the sulphur-yellow colouring of fruitbodies of this polypore, while the genus name Laetiporus means 'with bright pores'.

Identification guide

Tiers of Laetiporus sulphureus

Caps

The wavy-edged young brackets are soft and spongy with broad margins, but as they age the margins become thinner and paler. (Picture: Doug Holland)

Individual brackets range in width from 10 to 40cm and vary from 3 to 12cm in thickness. Their colours vary from egg yellow to pale creamy yellow with pink and orange tinged bands.

The flesh is yellow-orange when moist, drying out paler.

Tubes and pores of Laetiporus sulphureus

Tubes and Pores

Underneath the brackets there are tiny round or oval tubes - typically 2 or 3 per mm and 15 to 30mm deep. The pores are white or very pale yellow.

Spores of Laetiporus sulphureus

Spores

Ellipsoidal to broadly ovoid, 5-7 x 3.5-4.5µm.

Show larger image

Spore print

White.

Odour/taste

Smells 'mushroomy'; slightly sour taste.

Habitat & Ecological role

Chicken-of-the-Woods is saprobic, feeding on dead or dying hardwood timber, mainly oak, sweet chestnut, beech and occasionally cherry and willow. Surprisingly, this conspicuous bracket fungus also occurs on yew trees, which are of course conifers.

Season

Summer and autumn in Britain and Ireland.

Similar species

Laetiporus sulphureus could possibly be confused with pale specimens of the Giant Polypore, Meripilus giganteus, which is distinguished by the fact that its pores turn black when bruised.

Laetiporus sulphureus at the base of an old oak tree

Culinary notes

Laetiporus sulphureus is generally rated as a good edible fungus (unless growing on wood such as Yew, which itself contains dangerous toxins that could be taken up by the fungus); however, it is best picked when young and moist.

A popular way of cooking this fungus is to cut it into slices, brush them with oil, and then fry them in breadcrumbs; serve with lemon juice. The taste is quite like chicken; however, although most people find this a good edible species a small minority find that it causes feelings of nausea. If frozen (uncooked), this fungus retains most of its flavour, and so it is a good species for storing in preparation for the winter months.

Reference Sources

Mattheck, C., and Weber, K. Manual of Wood Decays in Trees. Arboricultural Association 2003.

Pat O'Reilly, Fascinated by Fungi, 2011.

Dictionary of the Fungi; Paul M. Kirk, Paul F. Cannon, David W. Minter and J. A. Stalpers; CABI, 2008

Taxonomic history and synonym information on these pages is drawn from many sources but in particular from the British Mycological Society's GB Checklist of Fungi and (for basidiomycetes) on Kew's Checklist of the British & Irish Basidiomycota.

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