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A treat for the eye and the palate

Chicken of the woods – an edible shelf fungus

The sulphur shelf is a bright yellow bracket mushroom that grows on the bark of trees, especially oaks. To be more precise, I should say that the fungus grows in the trunk of trees and branches. What we see on the bark is the fruiting body which appears only at particular times of the year to produce and disperse spores.

One specimen collected in 1990 in the New Forest in Hampshire in the UK weighed more than 45 kilograms and has even found a place in the Guinness Book of Records

The fruiting body of the sulphur shelf does not look anything like the typical mushroom with which we are familiar. It grows straight out of the bark and does not have a stalk.

The fungus feeds on the dead wood at the core of the tree. After years of feeding, the wood decays into a powder, leaving a hollow trunk which is said to make the tree better able to resist the forces of nature.

A large specimen appears every autumn on an old English oak that grows along one of the main paths in Buskett. I have seen it every autumn for the past 15 years or so but, although it is very visible, most people who walk past the tree do not see it and, if they do, they do not bother to look at it twice.

The sulphur shelf is found in Europe and North America. It is edible when young, although some people are allergic to it and suffer from gastrointestinal problems after eating it.

It is said to have a unique mushroomy taste. Others describe the taste as similar to that of crab or lobster while there is a general consensus that it reminds one of chicken. In fact, another name for it is chicken mushroom or chicken of the woods.

Although wild specimens are usually collected for cooking, this species can also be cultivated.

Some specimens can grow to a large size; one specimen collected in 1990 in the New Forest in Hampshire in the UK weighed more than 45 kilograms and has even found a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

In 2009, it was depicted on a 5c stamp which was one of a five-stamp set featuring Maltese fungi issued by Maltapost.

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