Hen of the woods mushrooms (Grifola frondosa) don;t have any poisonous lookalikes and there are very very few nonpoisonous ones.
The nonpoisonous lookalikes include:
- Berkeley’s polypore mushroom
- cauliflower mushroom
- black stain polypore mushroom
That said, upon closer inspection, you’ll find that these wild mushroom lookalikes don’t have the same grayish undertones as the brownish-colored hen the woods (except for the black stain).
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Are maitake and hen of the woods the same?
The maitake mushroom is the same as “hen of the woods”. The name “hen of the woods” comes from the fact that a cluster of mushrooms resembles the feathers of a hen.
In Japan, the name ”maitake” means “dancing mushroom” because people dance for joy when they find it.
Other common names include:
- Dancing mushroom
- Ram’s head or sheep’s head
- Grifola frondosa
Maitake mushrooms grow in clusters of flattened brown caps with white edges. Larger maitake mushrooms turn a grey or lighter tannish brown color as they mature.
Due to its numerous overlapping caps, the hen of the woods have a slightly ruffled appearance. Beneath the caps is a whitish undercarriage.
What mushrooms are similar to maitake mushrooms?
There are no toxic or poisonous lookalikes to maitake, so you can forage with some peace of mind.
Berkeley’s polypore mushroom, cauliflower mushrooms, and black stain mushrooms are the three fungi most similar to hen of the woods – all these lookalikes are edible fungi.
Black-Staining polypore Vs. hen of the woods
In general, hen of the woods mushrooms are darker gray than black-staining polypores, and they may have a slight lavender tint.
Black-staining polypores (Meripilus sumstinei) will likely be lighter gray to white, with a bit of yellow or gold at the margins of the cap.
Black-stainining polypores blacken when bruised or handled.
Berkley’s polypore Vs. hen of the woods
Berkley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi) is characterized by fleshy, cream-colored caps and whitish pores. Between July and October, it grows on the ground near tree bases. There is a depression in the center of every cap, whether convex or flat.
In comparison, the hen of the woods has many smaller, grayish brownish caps.
The polypore has a cream color; its texture can be dry, hairy or smooth, rough or pitted. Its flesh is white, thick, firm, and becomes tough over time. Its odor is mild and earthy, becoming stronger as time goes on.
Cauliflower mushroom Vs. hen of the woods
Unlike hen of the woods, cauliflower mushrooms (Sparassis) are characterized by ribbon-like folds. A cauliflower mushroom has no cap and consists of clusters of frilled, leaf-like branches growing from a joined base.
Based on maturity, the folded, flexible surface is ivory, pale yellow, or white. One side of the surface is smooth and waxy with small pores that release spores.
With a strong aroma of earth and musk, cauliflower mushrooms are brittle and semi-firm. With notes of fennel and almond, they have a neutral, earthy, and subtly nutty flavor.
In comparison to hen of the woods, cauliflower mushrooms are much more finely lobed, and without the zonal markings.
Where does the hen of the woods grow?
Beginners or mushroom hunters can look out for these fungi at the base of trees like the base of oak, dead trees, in fronds, or any hardwood trees.
Oak trees are abundant in parts of Eastern Canada and the U.S., where this tasty fungus grows.
Hen of the Woods and its lookalikes are autumn mushrooms and can grow well into November, depending on location and conditions.
How do You know if You have a hen of the woods?
Maitake mushrooms have 2-10 cm wrinkled caps and are brownish-grey in color. There is a slight fruity smell to the flesh of these mushrooms.
In younger specimens, the pore surface is grayish but becomes more white as it ages and develops a yellow or brown tone.
There are clusters of flattened caps on the fruit body, which resemble sitting hens to some.
From the bottom, the stem and branch structure look like the underside of a cauliflower.
The taste of maitake mushrooms is somewhat bitter. Despite this, they can be used in various dishes, including soups, stews, and stir-fries.