I’ve always been a nature girl. I played in mud until an embarrassing age (now), hiked, camped, and just explored basically since I was born. I’ve had internships that hinged on knowing nature. I’ve participated in competitions where the whole point was to identify different organisms. Despite all that, I am terrible at plant identification.

To me (and probably many others who have less of an appreciation for green things), many plants look the same. It’s difficult to keep track of all the leaf types and bark textures. I’m a visual learner so for me to actually remember a plant, it has to have a look. That something special that helps it stick, so that next time I see it I go, “hey, that’s *insert plant name here.*” When I actually can name one, I get really excited about it. I’ll tell anyone around. If there’s no one there, I’ll just say it aloud (because I can).

That exact thing happened to me today on the first dachickeny of October as I walked through Ashley Schiff (except I said it in my head with confidence, before confirming my ID with the iNaturalist app). I saw the orange fungus clinging to an oak tree and I knew. 

I worked as a counselor at an outdoor nature camp this summer, and I remember on first of many hikes, another counselor with many years of experience said excitedly, “if anyone sees any Chicken Fungus, bring it to me and I’ll cook it up real good!”

Naturally, immediately after he said that, I looked it up, the “Chicken of the Woods Mushroom” or Laetiporus sulphurus. Lucky for me, it was a memorable shape, size, and color. Now, whenever I encounter it (which occurs semi-often, as it did today), I consider trying to pry it off a tree and cook it, but I’m no fungus expert myself. Plus that doesn’t seem like something that would really be smiled upon at a nature preserve.

But it’s nice to know that I could eat it if I wanted to. If just being edible isn’t enough, this fungus has even shown medical potential in antitumor, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune-modulating treatments (Achara et al, 2016), which is also amazing.

Jennifer Meikle

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