Poisonous Hen Of The Woods Mushroom Look Alike

When it comes to mushroom foraging, one needs to exercise caution as there are poisonous varieties that closely resemble edible ones. One such mushroom with a look-alike that often confuses foragers is the Hen of the Woods, also known as Maitake mushroom. As someone who is passionate about mushroom growing and foraging, I have encountered this issue firsthand and believe it’s important to raise awareness about the potential dangers of misidentification.

Poisonous Look-Alike: The Jack O’Lantern Mushroom

One of the main look-alikes for the Hen of the Woods is the Jack O’Lantern mushroom. This poisonous variety, scientifically known as Omphalotus illudens, shares a similar orange to brown color and grows in clusters like the Maitake. However, the gills of the Jack O’Lantern mushroom are different from the pores of the Hen of the Woods, and this is a crucial identifying feature. Foragers must pay close attention to these visual differences to avoid accidental ingestion of the toxic Jack O’Lantern.

Key Identification Tips

When differentiating between the Hen of the Woods and the Jack O’Lantern mushroom, it’s important to consider the following:

  • The gills of the Jack O’Lantern are visible and emit a faint bioluminescent glow, while the Hen of the Woods has a spore-producing surface with tiny pores underneath.
  • Location: The Jack O’Lantern typically grows on wood (especially in the Eastern United States), while the Hen of the Woods grows at the base of oak trees.
  • Smell: The Jack O’Lantern has a faint, sweet odor, whereas the Hen of the Woods has a more earthy and mushroom-like aroma.

My Personal Experience

During one of my foraging trips, I stumbled upon a cluster of mushrooms that I initially thought was the prized Hen of the Woods. However, upon closer inspection and consulting my foraging guide, I realized that it was actually the Jack O’Lantern. This experience taught me the importance of thorough identification and the potential risks associated with misjudging a mushroom’s identity. It was a valuable lesson that I now share with fellow foragers and enthusiasts.

Further Resources

For those interested in foraging for mushrooms, I highly recommend investing in a reliable field guide specific to your region. Additionally, joining local mycological societies or foraging groups can provide valuable knowledge and hands-on experience in identifying different mushroom species.


Being able to accurately identify mushrooms, especially when it comes to distinguishing between edible varieties and their poisonous look-alikes, is a skill that requires time, practice, and attention to detail. The thrill of foraging for wild mushrooms should always be accompanied by a deep sense of responsibility and knowledge. Remember, when in doubt, it’s best to leave the mushroom in its natural habitat rather than risk consuming a potentially harmful look-alike.