Friday, January 4, 2013

Oyster Mushrooms

A cluster of oyster mushrooms.  They were found on quaking aspen in WY and are probably the aspen oyster mushroom (Pleurotus populinus) instead of the true oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), but the photo does a good job of illustrating the growth form of oyster mushrooms.
      Two weeks ago, I was out in Oregon visiting my brother.  As we collected conifer boughs for a Christmas wreath, we noticed some edible* oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing on old alders.  Some of the mushrooms were even poking through snow!  I was inspired to search for some "oysters" of my own once I returned to Alabama.  The Wednesday and Thursday brought some rain to the area, and it hasn't been too cold, so I thought there might be some around.  After dropping off my rent check at my landlord's, I figured I might as well take a quick walk down the wooded bike path that intersects his street.  The harvest was not great, but I did find one cluster of oyster mushrooms suggesting that there could be more around.
      They were growing on an oak (Quercus sp.) about a foot off the ground.  They tree had lost it's leaves, so I didn't identify it to species,  but it was alive.  Oyster mushrooms tend to grow on hardwoods, either living or dead.  All four mushrooms were very small compared to those I have seen out West.  The largest was only about 3 inches across.  I'm not sure if they were immature, or if they just don't grow as large around here.  I didn't have my camera, so I posted some old photos of related aspen oyster mushrooms.  The oyster mushrooms found here will look similar, but the caps won't be as pale.  The mushrooms I found today have pale brown caps.  All of the oyster mushrooms that I have found, regardless of species, share a typical growth form.  They are clustered on living or wood, usually hardwoods, and often have a kidney shaped cap.  The gills are decurrent.  This means they run down onto the stalk, however oyster mushrooms won't always have stalks.  This is especially true if they are growing out of the side of a tree.  When they do have stalks, they are often offset to one side.

These aspen oyster mushrooms demonstrate the typical growth pattern of  most oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus sp.).

      Oyster mushrooms are pretty distinctive*, but some people have confused them with other species.  This summer, I found some jack o' lantern mushrooms growing around town.  The photo below shows that they differ in color (jack o' lanterns are orange), but there is a potential that the true oyster and the jack o' lanterns's fruiting seasons overlap in this area.  Thus, you should be aware of it.  If you do find jack o' lanterns, do not eat them.  You will get sick.  However, they are pretty cool because they can glow (maybe...mushroom expert Michael Kuo disputes this)!

Do Not Eat this!  It is NOT an oyster mushroom.  It is a toxic jack o' lantern (Omphalotus sp.)

Do Not Eat these mushrooms.
      I am not a mushroom expert.  The purpose of this post is just to alert readers that oyster mushrooms are out there, and fruiting right now.  If you need help identifying an oyster mushroom, collect samples (if permissible) and consult an expert.  In addition, I want to avoid redundancy, so instead of re-writing everything, I'll just direct you here for a more thorough description.

*Note:  It is your responsibility to correctly identify any plant or fungi that you plan on eating.  Consult a local expert and/or an accurate field guide.  Do not eat any wild plant or fungus unless you are 100% sure of its identity.

Nancy Smith Weber and Alexander H. Smith. A Field Guide to Southern Mushrooms. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor Michigan. 1985 pp.61-64.

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