NOPE!!I am learning more and more about the fascinating world of fungi all the time. Previously, I thought that chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sp.) were about the only pinkish colored shelf-like mushrooms out there in my neck of the woods. But, I was out a couple of months ago, and I spotted this. I excitedly noted its location and made plans to come back when it was larger in order to collect it. However, upon my return, it hadn't grown at all! A little further research told me why: it was NOT a chicken of the woods! This was a little mushroom called Phlebia incarnata.
Phlebia incarnataThe scientific name for this fungus gives a pretty good physical description of its fruiting body. The genus name Phlebia refers to veins. Now, I didn't get a very detailed look under the cap of the specimen in the picture. I didn't want to disrupt it, because I was planning on letting it grow a bit; but, as I craned my neck in a strange downward position to look underneath the mushroom, it did look like it had a pored surface (an identifying feature of Laetiporus species). However, P. incarnata doesn't have pores; it has folds and veins that intertwine together and may give the under surface a pore-like appearance. The species name incarnata means "flesh colored"; a nod to the pinkish color of the top surface.
P. incarnata is most commonly found in the Mississippi River watershed and eastward. It is a saprobic fungus that feeds on decaying hardwoods like oak, beech, and maple leaving behind a white rot.
Interestingly, it seems to have some type of association with another species of mushroom called Stereum ostrea. While I noted several sources that pointed out this association, none of them gave an explanation as to why these two species like to hang out together. However, after reading about it, lo and behold...
I noticed the presence of both fungi in my pictures. The thin brown mushrooms appearing around P. incarnata are S. ostrea.
Definitely NOT Chicken Of The WoodsBut, this is definitely NOT a chicken of the woods species, although novice mushroom hunters (like myself) often times mistake it for one. This is why it is SO important to double check all of your finds with a local expert; someone who knows mushrooms, knows your area, and knows the mushrooms in your area. It also underscores the importance of personal experience out in the field. Now that I have seen these two mushrooms up close and had the opportunity to compare them side-by-side, I feel confident that I could distinguish between the two in the future.
There are actually two different species of Laetiporus that have gained the moniker "chicken of the woods" - L. cincinnatus and L. sulphureus. The former tends to grow in a rosette pattern at the base of hardwoods while the latter exhibits more of a shelf-like pattern. P. incarnata most closely resembles L. sulphureus.
I now know that the first indication that I had found P. incarnata rather than the delectable chicken of the woods should have been the size of the fruiting bodies. Laetiporus species are much larger than the specimen that I was looking at. Individual caps of P. incarnata top out around 7 cm across whereas a single cap from L. sulphureus will generally range from 5 cm to 25 cm across. In my defense, I knew that chicken of the woods mushrooms get pretty darn big. That is why I left this one and revisited it several days later. And, when it hadn't really grown any, that is what piqued my curiosity and caused me to research further. However, if I had taken a closer look at the bottom of the cap in the first place, I may have saved myself a little bit of time and gas money.
The chicken of the woods mushroom I was was hoping I had found is a polypore mushroom, meaning that the bottom of the cap is covered in tiny pores rather than gills. Furthermore, the pore surface of L. sulphureus is almost always yellow, even after the mushroom has aged beyond its freshness date. However, this particular specimen had a white pore surface, and the "pores" that I thought I had seen were not actually pores. The wrinkled texture of the mushroom just gave the appearance of pores.