Some things to know about Oyster mushrooms:
- Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) are found in late fall and winter. Other varieties of oyster (P. pulmonarius and P. populinus) can be found year round.
- Oysters grow on wood: hardwood, either live or dead trees, stumps or branches.
- They have gills., which are white to cream colored, and can descend a bit down the stalk (if a stalk is present.)
- They usually grow in shelf-like overlapping clusters.
- If a stalk is present, it will be off to one side, not in the center.
- Spore print is white to cream or possibly lilac.
It is important to take a spore print when identifying mushrooms. The deadly galerina, which also grows on wood, will have a rusty brown spore print. (The deadly galerina also has a center stalk.)
Poisonous mushrooms to distinguish:
The oyster grows on wood and has gills. Poison (from toxic to deadly) mushrooms which grow on wood and have gills are: Jack O’Lantern, Deadly Galerina and Angel Wings.
Jack O’Lanterns are yellow-orange, with yellow-orange flesh and yellow gills and a whitish cream spore print.
Deadly Galerina is a smaller brown mushroom with creamy to brownish flesh, gills are yellowish brown, and spore print is rusty brown. It has a central stalk. This mushroom can cause death.
Angel Wings: Smaller, white, grows on evergreen wood not hardwood. Spore print white. Inconsistently reported as edible, toxic, and deadly, so I think is best to avoid.
Reference Books for Mushrooms
I use a couple of mushroom books as my main references. One is Good Mushroom Bad Mushroom by Western PA Mushroom Club member John Plischke III, and the second is National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms.
Oyster mushrooms are delicious. They sell them at stores. If you buy them there make sure to smell them and memorize the smell; that will also help you identity them in the wild. Oysters have a distinctive sweet smell.
Remember, when eating wild mushrooms you need to be 100% sure of identification. Wild mushrooms can be deadly! Oyster mushrooms always grow on wood, have white to off-white gills, white flesh, and white to cream spore print. These facts are so important when identifying!
To learn more about wild mushrooms from local experts, join a mushroom group for a lecture, hike or foray. Local groups will be listed on the North American Mycological Association website. If you’re in or near Western PA, check out the Western PA Mushroom Club.