Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Non-poisonous With A Caveat, and Then Poisonous

Laetiporus sulphureus, Sulphur Shelf Mushroom, and Deroceras reticulatum, Grey Garden Slug (immature), Pittsburgh, 2014

Sunday morning my wife and I, along with our ever intrepid beagle, took a stroll down to the convenience store to pick up the newspaper.  We used to get the Sunday paper delivered, but then Caty had a run-in with their circulation or billing department, words were said (at least I think words were said), we cancelled our subscription in a huff.  Ever since then we've been on our own securing the newspaper.  Usually we pick-up the early Sunday edition on Saturday so that we have more time to work on the New York Times crossword puzzle, a puzzle, I might add, that it used to take us jointly all week to finish.  Now, one of us can finish it in a day, if we devote enough time to it.  I miss us working together on it, bonding over the cringe-worthy punny clues/answers.
So it was, that on this past Sunday on our way to fetch the paper we happened upon this mushroom and its resident slug.  I am no mycologist, but I can identify some mushrooms, especially the obvious ones with no look-alikes.  The sulphur shelf, or chicken, is one such mushroom.  A stemless polypor, it can grow on either living or dead wood.  It is edible and it is, in fact, the very first wild mushroom that Caty and I ever ate.  We were out collecting with friends of ours, the husband, Al, being the expert and guide, and he found a clutch of Laetiporus sulphureus sprouting out of an oak tree.  He cut some off with a knife and the four of us retired to their house were he proceeded to clean the mushrooms gently with a brush first, and then water, patting the pieces dry, slicing them into moderately thin strips, and then sauteing them in olive oil.  When they were done he layered them on homemade pizza along with sun dried tomatoes and slabs of mozzarella.  It was really divine.
Since then we've eaten other wild mushrooms, but always with Al serving as our guide.  Finally, last year I found a huge outcrop of L. sulphureus growing literally in our backyard.  Our neighbor had cut down a tree on the border of our properties, and from the stump grew the fungi.  I cut the whole of it free with my pocket knife and brought it into the house.  I was ecstatic because I knew how delicious and edible the mushroom was...or did I?  I went to the trusty google to make sure that I was indeed in possession of the delicious and edible L. sulphureus.  I was reassured that yes, it was a sulphur mushroom.  But then I read the entire accompanying article.

Before I say anything else about the Sulphur Shelf or Chicken Mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus, see photos above and below), I need to emphasize that it is very important to know what kind of tree it is growing on! Since the tree is often dead, this can be a bit tricky—but it's important because when the Chicken Mushroom or Sulphur Shelf grows on certain kinds of trees, it should be avoided! (There are actually distinct species, such as L. gilbertsonii which found on various hardwoods, primarily in California; L. conifericola, which grows on various conifers; and L. huronensis, which grows primarily on Eastern hemlock and is especially common during springtime.) Fortunately, the Chicken Mushroom or Sulphur Shelf is usually found on trunks, stumps and logs that still bear some bark, which can be the vital clue to identifying the tree—IF you can identify trees on this basis. The bottom line is that if you cannot tell the bark of a black cherry tree from that of an Eastern hemlock tree, for example, you ought to steer clear of the Chicken Mushroom or Sulphur Shelf unless it is growing on a living tree that you can identify.

SULPHUR SHELF MUSHROOMS GROWING ON ANY CONIFER TREE (PINE, HEMLOCK, SPRUCE, FIR, LARCH/TAMARACK, ETC.), EUCALYPTUS, OR LOCUST TREES SHOULD NOT BE EATEN! Also, as with a number of wild mushrooms and many other foods (e.g. shellfish, peanuts, and milk products), some individuals have allergic reactions to this particular species.

I was well aware that the stump upon which this mushroom was growing was a black locust.  I not only threw out the mushroom, but I scrubbed down the kitchen counter lest poison kooties be lingering there.  When we came upon this latest growth of L. sulphureus it was growing seemingly from nothing, just in the yard, which means that it was growing off the roots of a dead tree, an unidentifiable tree.  If I cannot ID the tree, then we can't eat it.  It didn't help that when I poked at the slug with the stem of a dried leaf it didn't react, and when I knocked it off it appeared to be dead.  Well, that's good enough to indicate deadly poison to me!  If it kills slugs, we are outta here.

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