August 18, 2021
Ben here with another edition of #BenInNature presented by our friends at Carter Bank & Trust!
When I joined several VMNH staff members on a field trip the week before last, we had to hike up a steep hill in order to gain access to New River Cave. Along the way, we spotted a favorite of mushroom hunters everywhere: genus Laetiporus, better known as chicken of the woods!
These parasitic shelf mushrooms can be distinguished by their bright yellowish-orange color, and they tend to grow on oak trees. While they cause damage to the trees they grow on, they're prized by mushroom hunters for their flavor. Believe it or not, these mushrooms can be prepared in most of the same ways as chicken meat and are often used as a chicken substitute in vegetarian and vegan diets! While I haven't tried them myself, it's said that they really do taste like chicken!
Of course, this all comes with a few caveats. First off, chicken of the woods should not be eaten raw, and only fresh young mushrooms should be eaten. Even when cooked, only small quantities should be eaten at first to make sure it doesn't cause a rare allergic reaction or any digestion issues. Additionally, there is at least one poisonous mushroom that looks superficially similar to chicken of the woods: Omphalotus olearius, the jack-o'-lantern mushroom. If you do decide to try chicken of the woods, please be sure to go hunting with someone experienced!
Social distancing can be difficult, but it presents a great opportunity to become reacquainted with nature. In this series of posts, Administrator of Science Ben Williams ventures outdoors to record a snapshot of the unique sights that can be found in the natural world. New updates are posted Monday - Friday, with previous posts highlighted on the weekends. This series of posts is made possible thanks to the support of VMNH Corporate Partner Carter Bank & Trust (www.cbtcares.com).
NATURE PHOTO IDENTIFICATIONS
If you discover something in nature that you would like help identifying, be sure to message us right here on Facebook with a picture (please include location and date of picture) and we'll have our experts help you identify it!