Sulfur-Colored Chicken of the Woods (Sulfur Shelf; Chicken Mushroom)

Family: 
Polyporaceae
Description: 

Layered, fan-shaped, fleshy; orange-red to orange-yellow on top; sulfur yellow below. Grows in overlapping clusters on dead or dying deciduous trees, stumps, buried roots, or living trees. May–November. Each cap flat, fan-shaped, or semicircular; orange-red to orange-yellow when fresh, turning lighter with age; texture fleshy. Pores angular; bright sulfur yellow. Stalk not present. Spore print white. Spores magnified are elliptical to round.

Lookalikes: Pale chicken of the woods (Laetiporus cincinnatus) is white on the underside. No other Missouri mushrooms have the color, shape, and growing habit of the two “chicks” (L. sulphureus and L. cincinnatus).

Size: 
Cap width: 2–12 inches (each cap).
Habitat and conservation: 
Grows in overlapping clusters on stumps, trunks, and logs of dead or dying deciduous trees. It can also be on living trees and buried roots. Chicken of the woods clusters can grow very large, with up to 50 overlapping caps in a cluster. Can reappear on the same site for years.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Statewide.
Status: 
Considered a choice edible. As chicken mushrooms age, they get tough—cut off the tender outer edges and leave the rest on the tree. Recipes abound for this and the closely related pale chicken of the woods (L. cincinnatus). They have the texture of chicken, and with a little imagination can taste like chicken. Although both species are safe and delicious mushrooms, some people get a bit of stomach upset or swollen lips after eating them. Try just a small amount the first time.
Life cycle: 
This species lives as a network of cells (mycelium) within living trees as a parasite, and dead trees as a saprobe, that digests and decomposes the wood. When ready to reproduce, the mycelium develops the "brackets" that emerge from the log—these are reproductive structures. In polypores, spores are produced in the pores on the underside and are released to begin new mycelia elsewhere.
Human connections: 
This fungus can be used as a chicken substitute in casseroles, enchiladas, and more. As with all wild mushrooms, be absolutely sure of your identification, cook it well, and only eat a small amount the first time you try it, since some people have bad reactions to otherwise edible mushrooms.
Ecosystem connections: 
This is one of the many fungus species that live on decaying wood. It and other such saprobic fungi play an incredibly important role in breaking down the tough materials wood is made of and returning those nutrients to the soil.