Most mushrooms prefer damp environments with substantial shade and while some mushrooms sprout out of damp soil, others grow directly on wood such as fallen logs. Wood mushrooms prefer wood that is dead, damp and rotting, conditions that make the wood easier to colonize and grow out of. Some types of mushrooms that grow on trees are edible, while others are dangerous and must be avoided.
Jack o' Lantern Mushroom
Jack o' Lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus olearius) grow all over the eastern part of the U.S., and are characterized by a bright orange or yellow-orange color and growth in large clumps. They grow on rotting wood, but can sometimes appear to be growing out of the ground if they have sprouted from wood that is just below the surface of the soil. In their later stages, jack o' lanterns can be confused with chanterelles.
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Be very careful with your identification, because while chanterelles are delicious, jack o' lantern mushrooms are poisonous. Under certain conditions, the gills of the jack o' lanterns emit phosphorescence and may appear to glow.
Flat Mushrooms on Trees
Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), also known simply as the chicken mushroom, this species is characterized by flat, overlapping shelves that grow laterally out of the sides of old trees and stumps. The chicken mushroom is delicious to eat when young, but as it ages it becomes more woody and less edible. Chicken of the woods is yellow when young, turning more orange and then brownish as it grows older.
As with any mushroom, be careful with your identification of this species before attempting to eat it. There are many species of shelf-like mushrooms that grow from the sides of trees, some of which are delicious and others of which are poisonous.
Honey Mushroom on Wood
The honey mushroom (Armillaria spp.) is widely dispersed geographically and can exhibit a variety of appearances, making it particularly important to identify it accurately. Honey mushrooms get their name from their color, which resembles honey when they are young. Honey mushrooms are wood-growing mushrooms that are usually found in large clumps growing from either living or dead trees.
These mushrooms can be a predatory fungus, attacking and eventually killing a live host. Honey mushrooms prefer oaks (Quercus spp., USDA zones 3-9) that are growing in damp and shaded areas. The buttons or caps of these mushrooms are edible, but their stems are not.
Oyster Mushroom on Wood
Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus spp.) grow best on poplar trees. They get their name because their caps look vaguely like oysters, being of a white or light cream color and bearing ridges that are similar to an oyster shell's.
Oyster mushrooms are commonly found growing wild in wind-protected, damp forest environments, and can also be cultivated mushrooms that grow on logs by inoculating the wood with oyster mushroom spores. When grown domestically, oyster mushrooms will spawn annually for four or five years. After that, you will need to inoculate a new log with more spores.