Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Chicken of the Woods

My elderly mother peered out our back window and asked, "What are those yellow flowers in the back woods?"

"Don't know Mom, " replied I, but to placate her I said, "I'll walk up there and take a look."

I was amazed to come upon several two-foot wide excrescences growing on a fallen tree. A bit of Internet research came up with Sulphur Shelf, vaguely related to the edible mushrooms from the grocery store.  This fungus is also called Chicken of the Woods, as it is edible if you collect the correct stages and if you are foolish enough to eat wild mushrooms (Smith, the Mushroom Hunter's Field Guide, 1867). 

The Chicken of the Woods causes heart rot in standing and fallen oaks (and other hardwood trees).  The fungus was once thought to occur across much of North America, but genetic experiments indicate that, what once were thought to be a single species, are actually a half dozen species.  The Chicken of the Woods is limited to eastern North America. This shelf fungus attacks trees, usually high up in the branches, well before it is visible to the casual observer.  By the time you notice the fungus, you probably can not save the tree (Michael Kuo).

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