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How do I identify my mushrooms?

How do I identify my mushrooms?

Foraging for wild mushrooms can be a fun and rewarding hobby, but it does require some caution. There are thousands of mushroom species, and while most are harmless, some can cause severe illness or even death if consumed. Proper identification of mushrooms is absolutely crucial before deciding if they are safe to eat. This guide will provide tips on identifying common edible and poisonous mushroom species found in North America and give an overview of distinguishing features to look for.

Get a Reliable Field Guide

The first step to identifying mushrooms is to invest in a comprehensive field guide that includes detailed descriptions and high-quality photographs of various species. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms is considered one of the best guides for beginners. Learn about key characteristics like cap shape, gill attachment, spore print color, habitat and distribution. Focus on becoming very familiar with edible mushrooms you would like to harvest as well as dangerously poisonous species to absolutely avoid.

Take Notes on Physical Features

When you find an unknown mushroom specimen, carefully note down key physical features:

Feature What to Look For
Cap shape convex, flat, bell-shaped
Cap diameter width in inches/centimeters
Cap surface dry, sticky, scaly
Gills attachment, spacing, color
Stalk shape, surface texture
Veil presence, appearance
Ring presence, position
Spore print color
Odor fragrant, fishy, unpleasant
Taste mild, bitter, sweet
Habitat woods, grass, dead logs

Thorough notes on multiple parts of the mushroom will assist with identification.

Take Spore Prints

One of the best ways to identify mushroom species is to take a spore print, which shows the color of the mushroom’s spores. To collect a spore print:

– Place cap gill-side down on white and black paper
– Cover mushroom cap with a bowl for 8-12 hours
– Spores will be deposited on the paper in a tell-tale pattern and color

Compare the spore print to guidebook descriptions and photos to help narrow down possible species. For example, purple-brown prints indicate psilocybin mushrooms while rusty-brown prints are common with edible mushrooms like morels.

Get Expert Input

If you are uncertain about an identification, do not consume the mushroom! Seek expert input by joining a local mycological society. Members have years of experience and can provide guidance on foraged mushrooms. Many organizations also offer free mushroom identification services. Additionally, call your nearest poison control center if you suspect poisoning from an ingested mushroom.

Start with Easily Recognizable Species

When just starting out, only harvest mushrooms you can confidently identify. Some safe choices for beginners include:

Common Name Key Features
Morel Honeycombed cap, hollow stalk
Chanterelle Funnel-shaped, ridges instead of gills
Puffball Round, white, no gills when young
Chicken of the Woods Yellow-orange shelves on trees
Hen of the Woods Rosette pattern, clusters at tree base

Only collect younger, fresh looking specimens and avoid any mushrooms that appear old, wilted, worm-eaten or contaminated with insects.

Avoid Potentially Deadly Species

While most toxic mushrooms will just cause stomach upset, some can be fatal. Be very cautious of the following deadly species:

Common Name Key Features
Death cap Greenish cap with white splotches, sac-like cup at base
Destroying angel White cap and stalk, thin delicate ring
Autumn skullcap Small tan cap with concentric rings
Deadly galerina Brown cap, gills run partially down stalk
Podostroma Stalked mushrooms with rusty spore deposit

Do not eat any mushroom unless you have confirmed its identity beyond ANY doubt.

Only Harvest in Quality Habitat

Get to know what kind of habitat and growing conditions your desired mushroom species prefer. Morels, for example, can often be found in abundance in recently burned wooded areas while many psilocybin mushrooms grow in fields enriched with manure or compost. Harvest mushrooms that are healthy and thriving in their ideal environment for best flavor and safety.

Proper Storage

For best shelf life, store mushrooms in paper bags or boxes in the refrigerator. Do not use plastic bags which can cause spoilage. Properly dried mushrooms can be kept in sealed glass jars for many months. Freeze any mushrooms you do not plan to eat within 2-3 days.

Well-identified edible mushrooms can be a tasty wild treat but always exercise caution when foraging. Follow these tips to safely identify common mushroom species and you’ll be enjoying the bounty of wild mushrooms in no time!


Identifying mushrooms requires careful observation of physical characteristics, spore prints, understanding of preferred habitat and consulting reliable references. Start by learning marks of edibility for commonly foraged species in your region while steering clear of any doubtful or potentially toxic lookalikes. Always exercise extreme caution – when in doubt, throw it out! Joining a mushroom hunting society provides guidance from seasoned experts. Proper identification is a critical first step to safely unlocking the rich diversity of wild mushrooms in your area.