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Foraging for Pheasant Back Mushrooms – 5 Pro Tips

Pheasant Back Mushrooms

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Pheasant back mushrooms (Cerioporus squamosus) are also known as dryad’s saddle or hawks wing mushrooms.  They can be found growing across North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

Growing either in clumps or on their own, pheasant back mushrooms earn their name from the color and patterned markings found on their caps, which closely resemble the color and patterns that a pheasant has on its back.

pheasant back mushrooms on tree
This image is Image Number 41498 at Mushroom Observer, a source for mycological images.  The owner is Dan Molter (shroomydan)
Pheasants on the Ground
Pheasants walking on the grass.

The pheasant back mushroom’s other name, “dryad’s saddle,” has a bit of a mystical tale behind it.  In Greek mythology, there were nymphs or nature spirits that lived in the forest that were called dryads.  The legend was that these dryads would sit and ride on the caps of these mushrooms.

Five Tips for Finding Pheasant Back Mushrooms

While pheasant back mushrooms are fairly common, it does take some skill to find them.  Mushroom foraging for pheasant back mushrooms – or any mushrooms for that matter – can be made simpler by following 5 pro tips to get the best of your mushroom foraging experience.

Tip One: Prepare Yourself

Mushroom foraging can sometimes be an all-day trip, so make sure you have the right equipment and clothing and are prepared for a long day in the woods.

Your mushroom foraging backpack should contain the following:

  • two baskets (mesh bags will work as well)
  • a pocket knife
  • soft cloth
  • a small brush (a paintbrush or soft bristle toothbrush are great options)
  • a mushroom field guide or app,
  • map and/or compass
  • clothing for unexpected weather (i.e., raincoat/sweater)
  • snacks and water.

Also, waterproof shoes or boots, and other protective gear will serve you well.

Tip Two – Know When and Where to Go

Pheasant back mushrooms like to grow in woodland areas where it rains a fair amount.  You can find them growing on dead and dying logs, on live tree trunks, and on stumps.  Their favorite places to grow seem to be on dead elm trees and living maple trees.

Other trees where you might find them growing are birches, box elders, poplars, and willow trees.

Pheasant back mushrooms typically appear in the spring.  They are often found by mushroom foragers who were looking for morels and other spring mushrooms.

The best time to go mushroom foraging for pheasant backs, however, is when they get to be about the size of a silver dollar. At this size, they will still be soft and will make enjoyable eating. When they get much bigger than the palm of your hand, they will turn woody and tough, and will only be good for making soup. Fortunately, you will usually find pheasant backs growing in groups, and they will be at various stages of their growth cycle, so there will usually be some young, tender ones available.

Tip Three: Know What They Look Like

As mentioned above, pheasant back mushrooms have a distinctive pattern on their caps that is reminiscent of a pheasant.  Their bodies range from yellow to brown. They also tend to have scales along the upper side.

Pheasant back mushrooms tend to grow close together and to have thick, short stalks.  You’ll be able to spot their half-moon shape, growing typically on tree trunks or logs that are lower to the ground. These mushrooms grow from a single stem either in clusters or individually on a tree.

Pheasant Mushrooms on Tree
Pheasant Mushrooms forming shelves on a tree trunk.   By J.Marqua – Eigenes Pilzfotoarchiv von

One other characteristic of Pheasant back mushrooms is that, being polypores, they are white on the underside, and do not have gills.  

In their early stage of growth, these mushrooms are soft and smell a bit like fresh cucumber or watermelon. However, as they age, they become woody and tough. Because pheasant back mushrooms have a long fruiting season, there is an excellent chance that, when you find one, you will find others in multiple stages of their growth cycle.

Pheasant back mushrooms do not have many look-alikes, so the danger of mistaking them for a toxic or poisonous mushroom is lower than with other varieties.

That said, if you are new to mushroom foraging, be sure to go out to the woods with someone who is experienced. If you are in the US, Canada, or Mexico, the North America Mycological Association (NAMA) has clubs in many cities and towns, and it is likely that there is a club near you. Visit their website to learn more.

Even if you have experience mushroom foraging, it is important to bring your mushroom field guide with you.  It is easy to forget certain details, and reviewing your guide will go a long way toward reducing risk.

Tip Four: Follow Best Harvesting Practices

You’ve found your mushroom, you’ve identified it, and now the exciting part – harvesting it!

It is important to know that there are good ways to harvest mushrooms, and there are harmful ways as well.  A smooth cut from your pocketknife will preserve the clean, inner flesh of your mushroom while keeping the tree and/or bark from being damaged in the process.

Cutting the mushroom instead of twisting and picking it also ensures that a piece of the mushroom is left behind that can regrow for years to come.

A great reason to use a mesh bag when harvesting is that it allows for the spores to fall off the mushroom as you carry them home, where they can grow in the areas where they fall – think of yourself as the Hansel or Gretel of mushroom foraging!

Tip Five: Enjoy Your Harvest

If you plan to cook your pheasant back mushrooms, make sure you remember to pick only the young mushrooms, as once they get old and woody, even cooking them can’t save them.

When harvested at the right point in their growth cycle, these versatile mushrooms can be used to enhance any dish, whether it be a side dish, accompaniment, or even your main dish.

Be sure to cut off the stems, which tend to be tough and woody whatever their age.  Also, it is best to cut these mushrooms very thin so that they will stay soft when cooking.

If you do find some older ones, their tougher texture makes them perfect for a flavorful soup stock.

Some people even make paper out of the older and thicker mushrooms!

Wrapping It Up

Pheasant backs are quite easy to identify so are a good mushroom for beginners to learn about.  But there are many other edible species of mushrooms out in the woods.  Read our article Mushroom Foraging — The Ultimate Guide to learn more.

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