Sulphur shelf

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Sulphur shelf mushrooms
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Sulphur shelf mushrooms

Sulphur shelf (Laetiporous sulphureous) is a very easily distinguishable mushroom that grows throughout most of the world. Also known as the chicken of the woods, the chicken mushroom, and the chicken fungus (not to be confused with the Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa)). It is, as one might expect, an edible mushroom with a taste quite similar to lemony chicken. Individual "shelves" range from 2-10 inches across. The mushroom grows in large brackets - some have been found that weigh over 100 pounds (45 kg). It is most commonly found on wounds in eucalyptus trees, although it can also be found on hardwoods such as elm, hickory, and ash.

Young mushrooms are characterized by a moist, rubbery, sulphur-yellow body with bright orange tips. Older mushrooms (as pictured above, about two weeks old) become pale and brittle, pungent, and are often dotted with termite holes. About half of the population has an allergic reaction to this type of mushroom, with cases being more pronounced in older mushrooms. Due to all of these factors, the mushroom should generally only be eaten when young, and one should always only try a small amount the first time. Similar species include Laetiporous gilbertsonii (fluorescent orange, more amorphous) and L. coniferica (common in the western United States, especially on red fir trees). Both share the same edibility traits.

The sulphur shelf mushroom is, to stretch the term, a perennial - it comes back year after year. This makes it a boon to mushroom hunters and a bane to those concerned about the health of their trees. Rarely, however, does the fungus prove fatal to its host.

The mushroom can be prepared in almost any way that one can prepare chicken. Additionally, it can be frozen for long periods of time. Despite the apparent ease of identification, extreme care should be taken on identification if one intends to eat any mushroom, as many species are toxic and potentially fatal poisoning can occur.

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