During one of my recent walks in the woods at Mohonk, my friends and I came upon this beautiful fungus!
It appears to be a shelf fungus known as Laetiporus sulphureus – also known as “Chicken of the Woods” – though this young specimen is not as yellow as that species is known to be. It is likely at least a close relative, though, or just a purely whiter young bloom that has yet to yellow with maturity. Recent DNA studies have split up what used to be universally recognized as L. sulphureus into six different species in North America alone, but L. sulphureus is the one that tends to take up residence in the Northeast.
Chicken of the Woods – like the title suggests – is edible. No hallucinations or anything, but you know, if you’re ever in a bind for food…
I feel bad for the tree, though. This fungus is not just saprobic (feeds on dead trees) but also parasitic (feeds on live ones). It is a heart rot fungus and is seen high up on the tree, as you can see in the photo. Of course, by the time you can see it in full-Chicken bloom, it’s already too late.
The heart has rotted.
The tree will die.
Such is the seeming relationship between beauty and death.
And so, the forest becomes its own stage for tragedy, unfolding its quiet story before the wanderers attuned to its mysteries.