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Oyster Mushrooms

I’m always on the lookout for new-to-me PEI fungi and so was pleased to spot a choice edible species during one of my recent plant workshops. These are Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotis spp.).

Photo 1: Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotis sp.) growing on poplar in eastern PEI.

Oyster Mushrooms are reasonably easy to identify, making them a good species for beginners.  These white to tan-coloured fungi grow in overlapping groups on the sides of hardwood trees, in this case a dead Poplar (Photo 1).  This mushroom’s stem isn’t in the middle of the cap, but off to one side where the fungus joins the tree. This gives Oyster Mushrooms a bit of an ear-like appearance and their scientific name: ‘Pleurotis’ means ‘ear on the side’.

 

Unlike many of our other fungi that grow shelf-like on the sides of trees, Oyster Mushrooms have gills rather than pores under the cap.  With Oysters, look for white gills that continue down the short stem (Photo 1).  The only real look-alike we have is Angel Wings (Pleurocybella porrigens, Photo 2), but these grow only on softwood trees and have very thin, almost translucent caps.

Photo 2: Angel Wings (Pleurocybella porrigens) may look a bit like Oyster Mushrooms but are found only on softwood and have very thin - almost translucent - caps.

Bigger is rarely better with mushrooms, and Oysters become bug infested as they grow.  This bunch and a smaller one above it were remarkably insect-free and so I collected them for a taste test.  I was not disappointed!

 

Fried with a bit of butter, the sliced Oysters became a beautiful golden-brown and maintained their firm texture (Photo 3). The flavour was mild and very nice, with nutty notes and an almond-vanilla finish. I could see garnishing my homemade wild mushroom soup with some crispy Oyster Mushroom strips, and I think this mild-tasting species would be a great introduction to mushrooms for the forage-hesitant.  I’d rank Oyster Mushrooms in the top five of the 20 species of wild PEI fungi I’ve tried so far.

Photo 3: Oyster Mushrooms sliced and fried in butter were excellet.

While I like trying wild mushrooms in the kitchen, I’m far more interested in their ecological roles. Oyster Mushrooms are among the white rot fungi, breaking down wood’s lignin and leaving behind cellulose (a carbohydrate) which promotes nitrogen-fixing bacteria and wood-eating invertebrates. This contributes to healthy forest soils, available nitrogen, and forest biodiversity.

 

A downside of lignin is that it’s not a good source of nitrogen, and so Oyster Mushrooms supplement their diet with nematodes – yes, these are carnivorous fungi!  Their appetite is not limited to wood and nematodes: Oyster mushrooms are among the fungi showing promise for remediating sites contaminated by petroleum and heavy metals.

 

Whether you like them for their taste, their ecological services, or both, Oyster Mushrooms are valuable parts of PEI untamed.

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3 Comments


Thank you again for this info, will be on the look out now. I really enjoyed your CBC interview and learned a lot - including all parts of the Queen Anne's Lace are edible. Your comment that Canadians can identify more corporate logos than plants was so funny but so true!

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I’m happy you’re enjoying the info - thanks for the comments! 😊

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I will be looking out for these! Thanks, Bryan

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