Sulphur Shelf (Chicken of the Woods): An Unmistakable Mushroom

In my Eliza Howell Park walks during the past week, I have several times spotted, from a distance, brightly-colored mushrooms on trees or logs. It can often be very difficult to identify mushrooms, but these I recognized immediately.

The mushroom is called different common names — “Sulphur Shelf,” “Chicken of the Woods,” “Chicken Mushroom” — but, whatever name is used, it is quite unmistakable, not easy to confuse with other kinds of mushrooms.

A “Wow!” was my reaction when I saw this on a gray drizzly morning.

Sulphur Shelf is a large mushroom. The cluster at the base of this Black Cherry tree is about 12 inches across. The colors are often described as “orange and yellow,” but they vary quite a bit and the light can make a difference, even on cloudy days.

Note two different views of the above tree.

The first Sulphur Shelf I found this year, about a week ago, was on a stump.

Another cluster, two days ago, was on a log in the shady woods.

The “Sulphur” name comes from the color of the pores (underside).

Sulphur Shelf is an edible fungus, often considered one of a mushroom hunter’s favorites. The “Chicken” name comes from the way it tastes cooked, at least according to some.

The first one I found (third picture from top) was in a very visible location and I was not surprised to see that two days later it has been harvested / sliced off.

It appears first as a yellow knob and grows very fast, brightest when fresh and young. In a few days it begins to “age” to more of a white color. The changes seen in this picture (clockwise, starting from top left) took place over about six days.

Sulphur Shelf can be found on both dead wood and on living trees. From my limited observations, the living trees on which they are found appear to have a significant degree of rot.

When growing on a tree or stump that has bark, they often emerge at a wound sight.

The mushroom guides indicate that Sulphur Shelf can be found about six months of the year (May to November), but I think of them as a September mushroom. I saw none this year before the middle of September and have found several since.

I do not know why I am seeing it more often than in previous Septembers in the park, but I am enjoying the opportunity to get to know this fascinating mushroom better.

And I welcome its contribution to fall color.

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