Dinner in the Woods: A Catalog of Edible Fungi on Haverford’s Campus

Amanita muscaria (also known as “Fly Agaric”), a beautiful mushroom with a rich history. Image taken in the Haverford Pinetum. Note: All images featured in this article were taken by Oscar Garrett.

Disclaimer: Foraging is a fun hobby with tasty rewards, but it can result in injury or death with the right combination of ignorance and misfortune. Do not eat anything you find without being 100 percent sure of its identity. The contents of this article are intended to educate you of these fungi’s presence on campus, not identify them. Consult a field guide or foraging expert before consuming any wild edibles.

When you enter the strange yet magnificent world of fungi, you will never look at the forest floor the same. Indeed, you’ll be looking at it a whole lot more. Fungi are a very diverse kingdom, ranging from single-cellular yeast (which we use in fermentation) to the largest organism on earth (a giant honey mushroom colony in Oregon). Multicellular fungi can be filamentous, composed of tube-like cells called hyphae. These hyphae form a network called mycelium which constitutes the vast majority of the fungi’s body mass. Some of these fungi will produce a fruiting body, called a mushroom, which acts to spread the fungi’s spores.

There are hundreds of thousands of characterized mushrooms, and they are extremely diverse in their shapes, sizes, and biochemistry. Humans have been utilizing mushroom biochemistry for millennia. Indeed, the iceman (the mummified remains discovered in the Ötztal Alps dated to have lived about 5000 years ago) was found with Chaga and birch polypore for their fire starting and medicinal properties, respectively. Fungal biochemistry continues to be used extensively today, both in medicine and the culinary arts. Today, we are going to be learning about a few of these mushrooms, ones that can be found on Haverford’s campus!

Each of these mushrooms are species I have personally found, and a few I have eaten. I do not recommend eating any foraged mushroom you are not 100 percent sure of. That being said, many of these look quite unlike any toxic mushrooms and are relatively safe to identify for amateurs provided the proper steps are taken. For those steps, please consult a mushroom foraging field guide. 

Hen of the woods

Hen of the woods, aka maitake, is a parasitic polypore mushroom often found at the base of maples, elms, and most often oaks. With their dull brown color, they can look like a small pile of dead leaves. The “leaves” of the mushroom are arranged in a rosette, connecting to the base of the tree at a single point. The undersides of the caps have white pores, small visible holes from which spores are released. These are in season during the fall, from late August to early November. On campus, they are quite common at the base of oak trees, especially those near Founders and along the main entrance. They are commonly around 2 or 3 pounds, but can get quite large.

I have eaten this one and can personally attest to its deliciousness. The fronds can be quite dirty so take care in cleaning them. They do great in small, thin slices marinated and grilled.

Chicken of the woods

Once you know chicken of the woods, it is unmistakable. Bright orange and yellow, it sticks out like a flame on dead and living wood. It too has pores on the undersides of its brackets. It can most commonly be found from July through October. Truly a beautiful mushroom, and delicious too! It has the consistency of tofu when cooked and can be used similarly. When harvesting for consumption, look for the younger mushrooms since they can get tough as they age.


If you have ever been to an Asian grocery store or are familiar with Asian cooking, you’ll know a common mushroom to use is enoki. Enoki is quite peculiar because in the wild, it looks very different from what you can buy in stores because store-bought enoki is farmed and not exposed to light. Wild enoki has a sticky red, orange, or brown cap with gills (gills are thin, paper-like structures on the underside of the cap which release spores). Enoki can commonly be found on dead logs. These mushrooms prefer cold weather, so they can be found in late fall or early spring. This is a mushroom to be careful foraging, however, as it has a poisonous look-a-like: the Deadly Galerina.


Oyster mushrooms are a very popular mushroom and often are some of the first foraged by beginners. They come in several colors, though the most common in this area is a grayish white. Their gills are quite unique, with the gills gradually merging with the stipe (the “stem”) of the mushrooms. These mushrooms sprout from dead trees; you can often find them on the large standing stumps along the nature trail. Their season is quite wide, ranging from midsummer to early winter. Additionally, these mushrooms are super easy to cultivate at home. You can purchase mushroom growing kits online which come with a block of straw already fully colonized with white, fuzzy mycelium, or you can grow your own from scratch with a little starting of mycelium and some organic waste like cardboard or coffee.

Oyster mushrooms have a firm consistency when cooked, almost like octopus or shellfish, though it changes depending on the age of the mushroom. They work well as meat substitutes and are great just sauteed with onion, garlic, and butter.

Honey mushrooms

Honey mushroom is a name given to several species of mushroom, so specifically, I will be discussing Armillaria ostoyae. The cap of the mushrooms is variable, but often brown with small dark brown hairs concentrated at the center. They have a ring on their stipe and a white spore print (spore prints are determined by placing the cap face down on a non-white flat surface for a few hours under a glass to allow the spores to fall on the surface). They often grow in clusters and can be very prolific. Honey mushrooms can be found on dead or dying trees (or from the ground on buried wood) in the fall, with their peak in October. Important note: there is a deadly look-a-like to this mushroom. The Deadly Galerina looks similar and grows in similar locations, but they can be easily distinguished by their rusty brown spore print.

I personally have not tried these before, but I have heard they are delicious and are prized in Europe. If it’s your first time trying them, eat a small amount at first since some may experience gastrointestinal distress after eating this mushroom. Unfortunately, the name “honey” mushroom refers to their color, not their taste, but some say they do have a sweet finish.


Blewits have variable color, but can be found in a strikingly beautiful lavender or a purplish white. They have a smooth cap, tightly packed gills, and a bare stipe. Blewits have a pink spore print, which can be used to distinguish them from some poisonous look-alikes. They can often be found growing in wood chips during the fall through early winter.

This is another mushroom I have not personally tried, but again, it is more commonly consumed in Europe. It is considered a choice edible, but they are known to cause allergic reactions in some individuals. Like with honey mushrooms, it is advised to consume only a small quantity at first.

Chicken fat mushroom

Chicken fat mushrooms are bright yellow in color with a sticky, slimy cap. They are a type of bolete, which means they have pores on their underside despite having a stipe and cap. It has a brown spore print. These mushrooms can be found in late summer through fall, often near pine trees with which they have a mycorrhizal (symbiotic) association.

I have not tried these mushrooms, and with their texture, I do not plan on it either. Some say they are underrated and compare its strong taste to organ meats. These mushrooms should be handled with care since some individuals can have skin reactions to the slime.

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fungal diversity on campus. There are many other interesting mushrooms like medicinal Reishi and Turkey Tail, deadly Death Cap, or psychoactive Fly Agaric. I hope this article has sparked an interest in foraging, and at the very least, encourages you to look and think critically about the funny-looking masses sprouting from trees and dirt.

Further learning

If you’d like to learn more about fungi, the following are some of the media I have learned from.

For mushroom identification: iNaturalist (app), Field Guide to Wild Mushrooms of Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic (book), Learn your Land (YouTube channel).

For interesting facts about mushrooms: Any of Paul Stamets’ books or episodes of podcasts on which he has been a guest, Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake (book), StoneAgeMan (YouTube channel), Fantastic Fungi (documentary).

This article was edited by Justin Adler and Ashley Schefler.