Hen of the woods is a tasty edible mushroom that both mushroom lovers and skeptics alike can enjoy. Maybe you’re a mushroom forager yourself and you’d like to get your hands on these tasty treats. If you’re wondering where to find hen of the woods mushrooms, you’ve come to the right place! Keep reading to find out more about where these mushrooms grow, what they look like, and how to find them.
What You'll Learn Today
- Where Do Hen of the Woods Mushrooms Grow?
- What Do Hen of the Woods Mushrooms Look Like?
- Is Hen of the Woods Rare?
Where Do Hen of the Woods Mushrooms Grow?
Hen of the woods, also known as maitake mushrooms, are found in northern temperate forests throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. These mushrooms, like many others, grow best in damp, shady woodland conditions.
Hen of the woods mushrooms tend to grow in clusters on trees. They grow upward and outward from a single base, branching out and sometimes growing quite large.
These mushrooms typically grow at the base of dead and dying trees. Sometimes they will grow on live trees as well, slowly weakening or killing the tree as the fungus saps nutrients from its roots.
Hen of the woods mushrooms sometimes grow on fallen logs on the forest floor as well. In fact, gardeners, chefs, and mushroom enthusiasts often cultivate these mushrooms by growing them on pretreated logs impregnated with the fungus.
What Trees Do Hen of the Woods Mushrooms Grow On?
Hen of the woods mushrooms can grow on various types of hardwood trees.
These mushrooms seem to prefer oak trees over any other kind, but they will grow on many other trees as well, especially elms and maples. The fungus is not terribly picky, as it will grow on many different types of hardwood trees depending on what is available.
As noted above, hen of the woods mushrooms tend to prefer dead and dying trees, much as other types of mushrooms do, but they will sometimes grow on living trees as well.
Hen of the woods mushrooms are somewhat parasitic, as they will steal nutrients from the tree’s roots, weakening it and potentially killing it over time. They do not work fast, so host trees may continue to appear healthy for many years before showing signs of the fungus’s negative effects.
When to Pick Hen of the Woods Mushrooms
Hen of the woods is known for being a fall mushroom, but it may be found at different times of the year and in many different regions. That said, regardless of location, these mushrooms tend to be most plentiful from late summer through early winter.
You may begin noticing an increased number of hen of the woods as early as August, and they may continue to produce prolifically through November. Again, there may be some variations depending on where the mushrooms are growing as well as changes in weather conditions from year to year.
For example, a particularly cool, rainy summer may result in a flourish of hen of the woods mushrooms showing up earlier than usual. And an early winter prefaced by unseasonably cold nights may cause them to die off sooner than expected.
What Do Hen of the Woods Mushrooms Look Like?
Hen of the woods mushrooms should not be confused with the similarly-named chicken of the woods, which is usually yellow or orange in color and much flatter. Hen of the woods is more gray to brown and typically has a more feathery appearance.
Hen of the woods mushrooms grow in a cluster from trees and logs, and each looks somewhat like a gray hen puffing up its feathers. These mushrooms have flat, ruffly caps that are lighter in color at the edges and in the center.
Each mushroom cluster grows entirely from a single stubby stem. According to Edible Wild Food, the fruiting head may be as small as 4 inches or as large as 36 inches in diameter.
If you were to look at a hen of the woods cluster from below, you would notice that the stem structure appears similar to a head of cauliflower or broccoli. The caps are also distinct in that they have no gills.
To learn more about identifying hen of the woods mushrooms, check out this video:
Is There a Poisonous Mushroom that Looks Like Hen of the Woods?
Hen of the woods is a great mushroom for beginning foragers because it is highly recognizable and has no poisonous look alikes. Though it does look similar to some other mushrooms, including Berkeley’s polypore and black staining polypore, these look-alikes are not poisonous.
How Do You Identify Hen of the Woods Mushrooms?
- Check the stem: As mentioned, an entire cluster of hen of the woods grows from a single stem which branches off in a pattern similar to broccoli or cauliflower. To help identify your mushrooms, turn the cluster upside down and examine the stem structure.
- Check the cap shape: Hen of the woods produces flat but ruffly and irregular caps. The cap shape sets it apart from the polypore look-alikes noted above, which both have flatter, more spiral-shaped caps.
- Notice the overall appearance: when attempting to identify a hen of the woods, ask yourself–does this mushroom cluster look like a hen? The overall appearance should be feathery, and the individual caps will probably be two-tone gray to brown.
Is Hen of the Woods Rare?
Hen of the woods is found in many regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. It can be cultivated as well, and found at various times of the year, so it is not considered particularly rare.
This mushroom is considered an edible choice, but it is not as hard to find as some other gourmet mushrooms, especially since it can be cultivated in a home or farming environment.
Hen of the woods is found in temperate forests throughout much of the northern hemisphere. It grows especially during the fall months at the base of hardwood trees, especially oak, and can be cultivated on logs at any time of the year. If you’re looking for tips how to store it properly, check out this guide.