If you have noticed dark brown mushrooms popping up in your yard, you may be wondering what kind they are and if they are safe or toxic. Identifying mushrooms can be tricky, but there are a few key steps you can take to get to the bottom of the fungal mystery in your lawn.
Examine the Mushrooms Closely
The first step is to observe the mushrooms carefully and note down any distinct characteristics:
- What does the cap look like? Take note of the shape, texture, and color. Does it have any markings or spots?
- What does the gill pattern look like underneath the cap? Are the gills closely or widely spaced? What color are they?
- What does the stem look like? Note the length, thickness, texture and whether it has a ring or volva (cup-like structure at the base).
- Where are the mushrooms growing? In a grassy area? Near trees or wood chips? This can provide clues about the species.
- Do the mushrooms bruise or change color when handled?
- What does the mushroom smell like?
Pay close attention to the specific characteristics of your mushrooms and write down any details that stand out. Having comprehensive notes about the visual features will help a lot with identifying the species.
Consider the Color
The color of a mushroom can provide valuable clues about its identity. Since you noticed your mushrooms are dark brown, that narrows down the options. Here are some common dark brown mushroom species that could be growing in your yard:
- Agaricus arvensis – Also known as the horse mushroom, this is a large, sturdy mushroom with a convex cap that flattens with age. The gills start out pink and then turn dark brown as the spores mature. It has a pleasant anise-like smell.
- Agaricus silvicola – This woodland species has a cylindrical cap that becomes flat in maturity. The cap often develops small cracks. The gills and stem bruise yellowish when handled.
- Agaricus placomyces – This mushroom has a flattened cap with a distinctive umbo (nipple-like bump) in the center. The gills and stem bruise slowly yellow, while the cap bruises reddish-brown.
- Psilocybe cubensis – Also known as “magic mushrooms”, this species has a convex, bulbous cap that becomes flat with age. The cap is caramel brown and the gills purple-brown. The stem bruises bluish.
- Panaeolus cyanescens – The cap is chestnut brown and conical, with dark grayish gills. The spores and stem bruise blue when damaged. It has a farinaceous (meal-like) smell.
These are just a few possibilities. Comparing your observations closely to mushroom field guides will help determine if any of these sound like matches.
Consider the Habitat
Knowing the habitat where the mushrooms are growing can provide additional identification clues:
- Woodland mushrooms like oyster, honey, and chicken-of-the-woods prefer to grow near trees. So if your yard has trees like oak, elm, and conifers, your mushrooms may be a wood-loving species.
- Grassland mushrooms such as agarics and puffballs thrive in lawns and open fields. If the mushrooms are growing in the grass, chances are it is a grassland species.
- Wood chip mushrooms like shaggy manes grow prolifically in mulched garden beds. Check for mushrooms pushing up through wood chip beds in your landscaping.
- Compost pile mushrooms are likely decomposers like inky caps and snowy inkcaps. Check mushroom growth around any compost piles.
- Garden bed mushrooms like fairy rings love nutrient-rich vegetable and flower gardens. If that’s the habitat, suspect a garden mushroom.
Considering the surrounding habitat combined with the mushroom’s visual characteristics will help pin down the possibilities.
Take Spore Prints
Examining the color of a mushroom’s spore print is one of the best identification techniques. To take a spore print:
- Carefully remove the stem from the mushroom cap trying to keep the cap intact.
- Place the cap gill-side down on a piece of white and black paper.
- Cover the cap with a small bowl and leave it undisturbed overnight.
- The next day, carefully remove the bowl and examine the spore print color.
Compare the spore print color to mushroom field guides. For brown mushrooms, black, brown, and purple-brown spore print colors are common. This is a reliable way to determine the exact species.
Get an Expert Opinion
If you are still uncertain about the identity of the mushrooms, consulting a local mycologist (mushroom expert) is recommended. Many regions have mushroom enthusiast clubs where you can get samples examined. Universities with mycology departments may also provide identification services.
You can prepare samples for mycologists by:
- Photographing the mushroom in its habitat as well as close ups of the cap, gills, stem, base, etc.
- Wrapping a freshly picked mushroom carefully in wax paper and keeping it refrigerated.
- Preparing a spore print.
- Noting precisely where and what the mushrooms were growing on.
Providing the best possible documentation and samples will assist expert identification. Once you have a confirmed ID, you can then determine if your mushrooms are edible, poisonous, or harmless but inedible.
Edibility of Brown Mushrooms
If the mushrooms in your yard turn out to be an edible species, collecting them for food is an option. Here are some choice edible mushrooms to look for:
|Agaricus arvensis (Horse Mushroom)||Edible and choice. Has an anise-like fragrance.|
|Agaricus silvicola||Edible. Best picked when young.|
|Agaricus silvaticus (Pinewood Mushroom)||Edible with a mild taste.|
|Hypsizygus ulmarius (Elm Oyster)||Edible with a subtle anise flavor. Popular in Asian cuisine.|
|Lyophyllum decastes (Fried Chicken Mushroom)||Edible with a fried chicken taste when cooked.|
However, these mushrooms should only be consumed if you have a confirmed ID from an expert mycologist. Consuming unknown mushrooms is extremely dangerous and can be deadly.
Toxicity of Brown Mushrooms
On the other hand, some brown mushroom species are toxic and should always be avoided:
|Galerina marginata (Funeral Bell)||Deadly poisonous. Contains amatoxins that can cause liver failure.|
|Cortinarius rubellus||Toxic. Causes kidney damage 2-3 days after consumption.|
|Inocybe spp.||Toxic. Contains muscarine which causes sweating, salivation, tears, and blurred vision.|
|Boletus satanas (Satan’s Bolete)||Poisonous. Causes gastrointestinal illness.|
|Scleroderma citrinum||Toxic. Causes nausea, cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea.|
Consuming any of these brown poisonous mushrooms can be extremely hazardous and life-threatening in some cases. Proper identification is critical.
Inedible but Harmless Brown Mushrooms
Several brown mushroom species are not poisonous but too woody, bitter, or unpalatable to be considered edible:
- Lentinus tigrinus (Tiger’s Sawgill) – Leathery texture makes it inedible.
- Phaeolus schweinitzii (Dyer’s Polypore) – Too tough and bitter tasting to eat.
- Polyporus varius (Variable Polypore) – Corky texture with mild to bitter taste.
- Gymnopilus penetrans (Common Rustgill) – Bitter taste.
- Paxillus involutus (Poison Pax) – Inedible due to sometimes causing severe allergic reactions.
These mushrooms are harmless to touch and allow to grow in your yard. But do not attempt to eat them.
Take Precautions When Handling Unknown Mushrooms
When trying to identify mysterious mushrooms in your yard, take proper precautions:
- Do not taste or eat any piece of an unidentified mushroom.
- Wear gloves when handling to prevent skin contact with potential irritants or toxins.
- Wash hands thoroughly after handling unknown mushrooms.
- Keep mushrooms away from children and pets.
- Seek emergency medical help at once if you suspect mushroom poisoning.
Take identification seriously and do not take risks with unknown fungi. With proper care, the mushroom mystery in your yard can be solved safely and reliably.
Control Measures for Unwanted Mushrooms
If the dark brown mushrooms in your yard turn out to be an undesirable but harmless species, you can take measures to control or prevent future growth:
- Remove mushrooms as soon as they appear. Gently dig up the mushroom including the base and root-like threads.
- Apply lime or wood ashes to raise soil pH. Most lawn mushrooms prefer acidic soil.
- Improve drainage in soggy areas. Mushrooms thrive in consistently damp conditions.
- Let grass grow longer and avoid over-watering. Reduce moisture and humidity at ground level.
- Apply compost tea or mushroom compost to introduce beneficial microbiota.
- Increase sunlight and air circulation around mushroom zones.
- Re-seed any dead patches in lawns. Dense grass crowds out mushrooms.
A combination of cultural practices can help discourage unwanted fungal growth while maintaining a healthy lawn and garden environment.
Identifying unfamiliar mushrooms in your yard can seem daunting at first. However, methodically observing physical features, habitat, taking spore prints, and seeking expert advice when unsure can lead to an accurate ID. Proper identification then lets you decide if a mushroom is a prized edible, a toxic hazard to remove, or a harmless nuisance you simply need to control. With knowledge and caution, the mystery of sudden mushroom appearances can be solved safely and satisfactorily. Just take care never to consume a mushroom before positive identification, and you can unravel fungal conundrums in your yard successfully.