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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - October 04, 2009

From: Battle Creek, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Edible Plants
Title: Orange/yellow fungus on a dead oak
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have a large dead oak tree which has an orange/yellow fungus growing at the base and also high on a spot where a branch had broken off. I've read a couple of things from the internet about this fungus but haven't found out about it being harmful to people or animals. And what about burning this wood once the tree is down? Can the fungus be removed and the wood used? If not,and if this is harmful,how do we dispose of it? If the wood is left lying around will it spread to other trees?

ANSWER:

Your description of the fungus on your oak tree sounds like one of the  sulphur fungi, Laetiporus sp.  These are also called 'Chicken of the Woods.'  The ones that would occur in Michigan on hardwoods are Laetiporus sulphureus or Laetiporus cincinnatusLaetiporus gilbertsonii grows on hardwoods along the West Coast.  There are also ones that grow on conifers—Laetiporus huroniensis in the Great Lakes Area and Laetiporus conifericola on the West Coast.  They are apparently edible and delicious when cooked and eaten when they are young and tender.  They are reputed to taste like chicken.  However, we would NOT recommend eating any mushroom unless it was identified and declared by a mushroom expert as completely safe to eat. 

By the time you see the yellow/orange mushroom (the fruiting body that produces spores) growing on the outside, the health of the tree has been pretty severely compromised by the mycelium of the fungus growing inside the tree.  This particular mushroom causes the heartwood to rot.  Probably the wood of this dead tree is not useful for much except as firewood.  Burning the wood should be a safe way to dispose of it.  The heat of the fire should destroy any spores and the fungus growing in the wood.  It has probably already shed its spores and they will create new growths of the fungus when they encounter the proper conditions. The way to protect other trees from this fungus is to avoid injury to the tree that would allow the fungus to enter.  Aging trees with broken limbs and large open wounds are very susceptible to fungus infection.

Now, that being said, since we can't see it we don't know for sure if this is the mushroom that is growing on your oak tree. If this doesn't look like your fungus, you can send us photos and we will try to identify it.  Please visit Mr. Smarty Plants' Plant Identification page to read instructions for submitting photos. 

 

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