Hen of the Woods mushrooms are popping again in Michigan. After posting a few pictures of a few I found, I started getting a slew of questions. After some thinking, I realized there were a few consistent patterns to the ones I have found over the last few years so I thought I would post them in case anyone wanted to attempt chasing some down themselves.
NOTE: Although Maitake mushrooms are one of the safer mushrooms to hunt for amateur mycologists, it is wise to educate yourself before picking any wild mushrooms and to always exercise extreme caution before consuming any mushroom. Even so-called ‘safe’ or ‘edible’ wild mushrooms may still cause adverse reactions in some people ranging from mild stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea to outright kidney and liver damage. Falsely identifying a mushroom can have the same results to even death in the case of some varieties.
I don’t know if it’s 100% consistent but as near as I can tell, every one that I have found so far has fit a these key characteristics as far as the location:
- a large old oak tree – trees with a minimum of a 4′ diameter at the trunk
- trees near a low area where there could be standing water at certain times of the year – not ‘in’ the low area, but part way up a hill above it – presumably (I’m guessing) close enough that the farthest roots of the tree may reach the low-lying (sometimes wet) area below.
- trees on a south west slope, often times having a slight ‘plateau’ on the side of the slope around the tree (a slope leading down to the potentially ‘wet’ area described above)
- mushrooms also appeared rather consistently on the SW side of the tree
- the ground around the tree wasn’t noticably ‘wet’ but wasn’t incredibly dry either. There also was never a lot of debris on the ground or green growth in any large quantities for some distance. The area around the base of every tree I’ve found one growing by was clear for a considerable distance (at least in the SW direction)
- although the area around the base of the tree’s SW side was quite clear and the mushroom was on the SW side, the area itself was well shaded most of the time by trees further away to the south and south west.
As I considered all these consistent items, I started thinking as to a way to ‘test’ my hypothesis. So I went over by where I found 3 of the 5 clusters the other day. I headed back into the woods about 50 yards or so past where I found the one’s previously. Then I looked out through a small valley there that carries rain water in a small ‘stream’ whenever we get a lot of rain. I stood where I was and looked out a good 100 yards or so and at all the trees in between. Based on what I listed above, I picked out three likely trees that seemed to fit that ‘formula’ among at least 20-30 trees that at least fit #1 for ‘size’.
I checked every oak tree I saw, big or small in about a 75′ radius not finding any hens before coming up on the three trees I picked out – where I found two more moderately sized hens on the SW side of two of the 3! So there may be at least some proof that my observations are good.