Many species of chicken of the woods and jack-o’-lantern mushrooms are frequently found in North American woodlands, occasionally with overlapping fruiting periods. These mushrooms are not sufficiently similar to be considered lookalikes, though juveniles of both species groups frequently have vivid orange-yellow colouring.
This tutorial will explore the six main distinctions between jack-o’-lantern and chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms, exploring their fungal classification, morphologies, ecological roles, and edible statuses.
Continue reading to find out more.
Jack-o’-Lantern Mushroom vs. Chicken of the Woods: Fungal Classification
The term “jack-o’-lantern” describes a number of brightly orange, bioluminescent species of the Omphalotus genus that grow in Europe, East Asia, and North America. These species include Ophalodus illudens, Ophalodus olivascens, and Ophalodus subilludens in North America. This eerie genus is a member of the Agaricales order’s Ophalotopaceae family.
The term “chicken of the woods” refers to a variety of Laetiporus edible polypore mushrooms. All over East Asia, Southern Africa, Europe, the Americas and Caribbean Islands, and Australasia exist these vividly coloured mushrooms. Laetiporus sulphureus, L. conifericola, L. gilbertsonii, L. persicinus, L. cincinnatus, and L. huroniensis are among the species that have been identified in North America. This genus is a member of the Polyporales order’s Fomitopsideaceae family.
Jack-o’-Lantern Mushroom vs. Chicken of the Woods: Morphology
The majority of chicken of the woods and jack-o’-lantern species have vivid orange colouring, but that is about where their physical similarities end.
Morphology of Jack-o’-Lantern Mushrooms
Particularly when they are young, jack-o’-lantern mushrooms have a very distinctive and striking appearance.
Jack-o’-lantern mushrooms usually have clusters of vivid orange fruiting bodies when they are young and fresh. The majority of species have pale orange flesh. The cap is usually the brightest orange in colour. Pale orange gills (never pores) and a pale yellow-orange stipe are located beneath the cap.
Depending on the species, jack-o’-lantern mushrooms have slightly diverse morphologies. For instance, the convex crowns of immature Omphalotus illudens specimens feature in-rolled borders and a centre bump. The mushroom’s cap enlarges as it grows, taking on the shape of a disc or faint vase with upturned margins and a central depression. The cap’s maximum diameter is approximately 8 inches. There is a cream to pale yellow spore print.
The crown of Omphalotus olearius, on the other hand, usually has a 5 inch diameter and lacks a centre hump. This species’ mature individuals frequently exhibit browning caps as they age. The print of the spores is pale.
The stipe (stem) and cap of jack-o’-lantern mushrooms are clearly defined, and the gills extend partially down the length of the stipe (decurrently). Fresh specimens’ gills may shine a faint, pale green at night. The gills are generally close together and crowded, with occasional short gills that stop short of the point where the stipe and cap unite.
Morphology of Chicken of the Woods
Different species of chicken of the woods have slightly different morphology, particularly with relation to the shape of the cap, the colour vibrancy of the fruiting body, the spore print, and the colour of the pores.
The fruiting bodies come in a variety of colours, although they usually have orange, yellow, pink, and cream tones.
In contrast to gilled jack-o’-lantern mushrooms, chicken of the woods has pores all over its bottom. These pores usually have pore tubes that are up to five millimetres deep, can have a form ranging from round to angular, and can be white or yellow in colour.
Usually, the fruiting body is made up of layers of closely spaced caps. The caps typically have a kidney, fan, semicircular, or ruffled shape and are thickly fleshed. Individual caps can grow up to 10 inches in diameter, while the fruiting body as a whole can have a diameter of up to 3 feet, depending on the species. Laetiporus sulphureus is one of the most prevalent species in eastern North America.
It has caps with vivid orange centres and yellow borders when it is new and fresh. The fruiting body ages to a dull orange or a faint cream-yellow colour. The caps have an uneven, semicircular, or fan-like form. Lateral shelf-like layers are formed by them. As time passes, the bright yellow pore surface becomes duller. This species has pore tubes that can reach a depth of five millimetres, with 2-4 pores per millimetre.
Jack-o’-Lantern Mushrooms vs. Chicken of the Woods: Ecology
Jack-o’-lantern mushrooms and chicken of the woods play quite different ecological roles from one another. While jack-o’-lantern mushrooms are exclusively saprobic, chicken of the woods is parasitic and saprobic, since both participate in a mutually beneficial nutrient exchange (mycorrhizal).
Ecology of Jack-o’-Lantern Mushrooms
The ophtalotolus genus comprises all saprobic species, which obtain their nourishment from the breakdown of organic waste. Jack-o’-lantern mushrooms aid in carbon sequestration and essential nutrient recycling as decomposers.White-rot fungus, such as ophelialotus species, are able to degrade lignin in wood, leaving behind white, fibrous wood waste. Additionally, they decompose cellulose and hemicellulose.
Large clusters of jack-o’-lantern mushrooms usually bear fruit on decaying hardwood stumps. As wood-decayers, these mushrooms are actually developing from buried rotting wood or roots, although they may also seem to be fruiting from the earth. The majority of species ripen from late summer to autumn.
Ecology of Chicken of the Woods
Every species of Laetiporus is saprobic and parasitic. These mushrooms are classified as brown-rot fungi, which can break down cellulose and hemicellulose but not lignin. They may create a brown rot on the roots, in the heart of the tree, or at the base of trees, depending on the species. By restoring nutrients to the soil and creating space for fresh, healthy plant growth, parasitic fungi like chicken of the woods support the long-term health and biodiversity of forests.
Brown heart rot is mostly caused by Laetiporus sulphureus on living oak trees. After the tree dies, it will still break down. Although it can grow in early spring and winter in warmer climates, this plant mainly fruits in the summer and autumn.L. sulphureus is found throughout Europe and to the great east of the Rocky Mountains.
On the other hand, from late spring through autumn, Laetiporus cincinnatus causes a brown rot at the base and roots of oak trees and fruits.Large areas of L. cincinnatus are found east of the Great Plains.
One species that grows on coniferous trees and is widely dispersed west of the Rocky Mountains is Laetiporus conifericola. This species mostly bears fruit at the bases of hemlock, fir, and spruce trees, both living and dead.
Compare the Edibility of Chicken of the Woods vs. Jack-o’-Lantern Mushrooms
In terms of edible qualities, chicken of the woods and jack-o’-lantern mushrooms are highly unlike.
Edibility of Jack-o’-Lantern Mushrooms
Because some species of jack-o’-lantern mushrooms resemble highly valued chanterelles (Cantharellus spp.), foragers are frequently informed about the toxicity of these mushrooms. When consumed by humans, the toxin illuden S, which is present in many species of the genus Ophalopothus, produces severe gastrointestinal symptoms. Usually starting one to two and a half hours after eating the raw or cooked mushroom, these symptoms manifest.
Edibility of Chicken of the Woods
On the other hand, chicken of the woods is a tasty edible mushroom, yet eating it can cause upset stomachs in certain people. It seems that eating a very old specimen or undercooking the mushroom are the main causes of this. Therefore, it is advised by the majority of field guides to only gather young, fresh specimens and to fully boil the mushrooms for at least 15 minutes before consuming them. Generally speaking, you should only try a tiny amount of a newly discovered edible wild mushroom and wait a full day to see whether anything is wrong with your stomach before trying more.
The term “chicken of the woods” alludes to the flavour and consistency of the fungus. Young, fresh specimens have a flavour profile that is savoury, slightly lemony, and chicken-like, with a texture that is juicy, meaty, and slightly fibrous. For this reason, chicken of the woods mushrooms work well as meat substitutes in a variety of recipes. They taste great roasted, grilled, sautéed, and battered.