|Chicken of the woods – an edible shelf fungus|
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 fifteen 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 wood. 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 United Kingdom weighed more than 45 kilograms and has even found a place in the Guinness Book or Records.
In 2009 it was depicted on a 5 cent stamp which was one of a set of five stamps featuring Maltese fungi issued by Maltapost.
This article was published in The Times on 10.10.2012