I hurried through Fahnestock State Park a few weeks ago, bypassing scenery and even ignoring birds in my effort to get back to my car before the cloud of mosquitoes that had appeared drained my lifeblood, or at least my enthusiasm. Out of the corner of my eye I suddenly spotted shelves of bright orange and had to stop for a quick sketch, mosquitoes notwithstanding. I recognized the fungus growing from a rotted log– Chicken of the woods, a mushroom considered to be one of the “Foolproof Four”– four mushroom species which are easy to identify and not easily confused with poisonous species. (See Mushroom Collecting 101: The foolproof four)I did a quick pencil sketch, snapped a couple of photos, then dashed for the car, flapping my hat over my arms to fan away the hungry hordes. I knew the brilliant color and shelf-like growth habit of Chicken of the woods from when I had last seen them.
My father and I had collected some of these from a hardwood tree in his yard (hardwood is important, as a closely related species that grows on conifers is more likely to contain toxins). He cooked them for our lunch, and I can attest that they are indeed delicious. I can also attest to the fact that some people, approximately 10% by some estimates, have an adverse reaction to this mushroom. My father, who ate more of them than I did, was fine, as he had been whenever he had eaten the mushrooms from that tree. I, on the other hand, had barely gotten home before the severe gastrointestinal distress hit.
From now on when eating a new variety of wild mushroom, I will follow the advice to only try a little bit and see how I feel after a while, before enjoying a full portion (See The Long-lived Wild Mushroom Eater’s Golden Rules) I will also content myself with drawing, rather than eating, Chicken of the Woods.
A sketch from earlier on my hike, before the mosquitoes descended on me and drove me from the woods