I photographed this specimen in Minnesota. It meets all the criteria for a chicken of the woods mushroom (a bracket fungus that is orange, large, close to the ground and on a tree). Should I eat it?
The first mushroom I ever confidently identified was the shaggy mane. As one of the “foolproof four,” this apparently wasn’t any great feat on my part, they are that easy to recognize. That still hasn’t convinced me to eat one though. I hope to change that.
Shaggy mane mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) are not shaped in the typical umbrella shape we think of when we consider mushrooms. The cap is much more bullet-shaped, three to five inches long and up to two inches wide. The key to identity is really the shaggy look of the outside of the cap which has lots of “scales” that peel off and curl upward. The stem, when broken off, is fibrous and hollow, not solid.
Shaggy mane mushrooms show up in the fall. They are particularly fond of compacted soil and that is why I found them in my gravel driveway. I have also seen them along the edges of gravel or dirt roads.
There is only one species that is reported to be even remotely like the shaggy mane and that is the inky cap mushroom (also edible, so a mistake isn’t fatal). However, this one lacks the shagginess on the cap. To me, they don’t look much like a shaggy mane other than having a similar bullet-like cap shape.
The thing with shaggy manes, and why you will never see them on restaurant menus or in farmer’s markets is that they are very fragile and have almost no shelf life. If you harvest one, you will need to prepare and consume it that very day or it will disintegrate right before your eyes. The gills will go from white to black and then turn into a black sticky mess. In fact, this black sticky mess is sometimes used to color foods black and was once used for a substitute for ink.
According to those who use these mushrooms regularly, they are very mild flavored and should be paired with dishes that will not overwhelm their delicate essence.
The fabled chicken of the woods mushroom is a different story. This type of mushroom is a polypore. It doesn’t have gills, dispersing spores through holes and tubes instead. They form huge fruiting bodies, live almost exclusively on trees as either saprotrophytes (living on dead wood) or parasites, thriving on living trees. Often, polypores are specifically tied to a particular species of tree. The fruiting bodies are usually flat and extend out from the side of the tree like a shelf, earning them the names of bracket or shelf fungi. Older specimens can become quite woody. Sometimes they are referred to as conks.
Chicken of the woods mushrooms are very dense, and can remain pot ready for a long time after harvesting. They are mild-flavored and unlike other mushrooms, experts claim they have a texture like chicken, hence the name. If you find a tree with a chicken of the woods infestation, you have struck fungal gold.
There are seven species of chicken of the woods from coast to coast and more from around much of the world. Typically, they are yellow to orange, often fading to a lighter color on the edges. There is one species that is white. They will have large clusters of overlapping brackets. They grow low to the ground, become available in autumn and if it weren’t for the bright colors, would be hard to spot.
Unfortunately, as far as I can determine, no species of chicken of the woods grows in Eastern Idaho. North Idaho seems to be the closest place we can find this natural bounty. If you know differently, please let me know via my website, nature-track.com.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho