Phoenix oysters (Pleurotus pulmonarius) are shelf-like gilled mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms in the Pleurotus genus are morphologically very similar. Often substrate and time of occurrence are the best way to separate them in the field. For example, P ostreatus (red oyster) is prevalent in the fall and winter while phoenix oysters fruit in spring and summer. The aspen oyster (P populinus) grows on the wood of aspens and cottonwoods while other hardwoods and conifers provide the substrate for phoenix oysters.
Phoenix oysters, also known colloquially as Indian oysters and lung oysters, are widely distributed across North America. These fungi decompose dead or decaying organic matter (saprobic) and cause a “white rot” on dead or downed trees.
The cap of a phoenix oyster is lung, fan or semicircular in shape and is slightly convex. The thick flesh is whitish, pale beige or pale tan. The cap margins are slightly inrolled when young and later become wavy. The whitish gills are decurrent (run down the stem) and discolor with age while the spores are white, grey or lilac. The stem is absent or rudimentary and is usually off to the side.
Oyster mushrooms are edible – delicious when breaded and fried.
Holistic medicine utilizes oyster mushrooms as an antihistamine and in the treatment of cancer, diabetes and colitis, among other ailments. Research shows that oyster mushrooms have some therapeutic properties, however, more studies must be done to determine their true efficacy.
The genus name, Pleurotus, means “side ear”. The etymology is Greek: “pleur” meaning on the side and “otus” or ear. The species designation is Latin and means “like a lung” – “pleuro” is lung and “arius” is pertaining to.
These phoenix oysters were growing in May at rest area along California Highway 101 near Patrick’s Point (Humboldt County CA).