• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Dokkio Sidebar (from the makers of PBworks) is a Chrome extension that eliminates the need for endless browser tabs. You can search all your online stuff without any extra effort. And Sidebar was #1 on Product Hunt! Check out what people are saying by clicking here.


All About Mushrooms (redirected from The Mushroom Page)

Page history last edited by John W Lehman 12 years, 7 months ago

This page has been created by John Lehman and contains information about hunting, identifying, and eating wild mushrooms. This page is continued on The Mushroom Page (2). To create your own Personal Page click on this link.








Most people who go mushroom hunting are out there because they're looking for something they can put in a pot and cook up for dinner.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  There are dozens of kinds of mushrooms that grow in our area that are edible and quite easy to identify, even by an amateur, if you know what to look for.  But the majority of mushrooms are difficult to identify with certainty even by the experts, so unless you're willing to expend a considerable amount of time and effort building up a library of mushroom guides and studying your collections in minute detail, you shouldn't even consider experimenting with the more problematical species. Not all poisonous mushrooms are deadly, but mushroom poisoning is never a pleasant experience even if you survive, so it's usually best to limit your gastronomic experiences to a few kinds of mushrooms that are easy to identify.


It's been estimated that there are 70,000 or so species of fungi, so you might think that the Kingdom of Fungi would offer an unlimited variety of fungal treats. Unfortunately only about 250 of those species are choice edibles. Another 250 or so could kill you or make you seriously ill. (An article in Wikipedia lists only 35 species that are known to have caused death.) The remaining ~69,500 species are somewhere in between—edible but not very tasty, bitter or bad-tasting, too small or too tough to eat, or toxic enough to give you a stomach ache or other unpleasant symptoms but not kill you.


Besides hunting mushrooms for food, you can go mushroom hunting simply to enjoy the beauty and diversity of the world of fungi, without bringing any home to the table.  That's the mycological equivalent of catch and release fishing, except that you don't have to remove the mushrooms from their habitat, even temporarily.  I find that I enjoy walking in the woods more if I known what I'm seeing and can put a name to it.  Although most people can identify a number of the plants and animals they see, very few can identify the fungi they see.  I will eventually add more links to photos of different kinds of mushrooms and other fungi, so that when you see a similar fungus in the woods you may at least be able to classify it, if not give its exact name. You can also find good photos in most of the field guides described below.


So what is a mushroom, exactly?  I like the definition "mushrooms are what mushroom hunters hunt," but that's not going to satisfy everyone.  First, a mushroom is part of a fungus, which is neither a plant nor an animal, scientifically speaking; the fungi now occupy a kingdom all their own.  More specifically, a mushroom is the fleshy fruiting body of a fungus, arising from the main body of the fungus. It’s basically a reproductive organ whose purpose is to propagate other individuals of its species. The main body of the fungus is mostly or entirely hidden—underground, in leaf litter, or in the bark or wood of dead and living trees.  That main body is called the mycelium, or sometimes the spawn. A mushroom has the same relationship to its mycelium as an apple does to an apple tree, so you don’t have to feel guilty about picking mushrooms; that doesn’t harm the organism any more than picking apples harms the tree. In fact, mushroom picking may actually help a mushroom species by spreading its spores around. On the other hand, you shouldn't pick mushrooms indiscriminately—leave some in the woods for others to enjoy!



Suillus spraguei

Collecting Wild Mushrooms for Study


Let's assume that you're interested in learning how to identify wild mushrooms. First, of course, you will have to go out in the woods or the field and collect some, and it's important to know how to collect them properly so that all of their identifying features are intact. In other words, you need to bring home complete, undamaged mushrooms.


1. Take a flat-bottomed basket, a sturdy knife, small paper or wax paper bags, a small note pad with detachable sheets, a pen or pencil, a compass or GPS, and sturdy shoes. The collection basket should be fairly large but shallow, so that you won't have to stack mushrooms on top of one another. Covering the bottom of the box with wet moss will help preserve the mushrooms. A small trowel can be useful for recovering the underground portions of some mushrooms. Bring insect repellent and sunscreen if necessary. 


2.  When you find some mushroom specimens that you want to identify, use your knife or trowel to dig out the entire fruiting body, including any parts of the stalk that are underground—especially any attached volva (cup-like feature). A volva at the base of the stalk is a characteristic of mushrooms in the genus Aminita, which contains most of the truly dangerous mushrooms, so it's essential to recover any such feature as an aid in identification.


3. Collect several specimens, at different stages of growth if possible, and put them into a paper or wax paper bag. Never use plastic bags for collecting or storing mushrooms; they promote condensation, which leads to rapid decomposition.


4. On your note paper, describe the habitat and growth habit, and record the date and approximate location. Also take note of any distinctive odor and any color changes upon bruising.

Examples of habitats: living tree (identify it if possible), stump or other dead wood, on the ground among trees, grassy field, beech-maple woods, conifer forest, etc.

Growth habits: single, scattered, gregarious (growing close together but not in clusters), cespitose (in clusters)


5. Put your notes in the bag and the bag in the basket. Continue collecting, putting each different species in a separate bag.


"Varnish shelf" (Ganoderma sp.)

Identifying Wild Mushrooms


Here's a caveat: With a few exceptions, mushrooms are difficult to identify accurately. There are only a few hundred species of trees in North America and even a rank amateur can identify most of them by making careful observations and using a good field guide. There are thousands of mushrooms in North America (estimates run up to 30,000) and some can't be identified with certainty, even by trained mycologists. So don't expect to be able to identify every mushroom you find by checking them out in a field guide—or even a dozen field guides. No field guide can contain all of the mushrooms that are out there, and it's quite possible that a particular species you've collected won't be described in any field guide. So at least initially you should settle for learning to identify a few mushrooms that are comparatively easy to pin down, such as the ones described in a following section. I'd recommend that you buy a copy of Michael Kuo's book, 100 Edible Mushrooms, and then follow these directions or the more detailed directions in his excellent book.


1. As soon as possible, obtain a spore print of a mature specimen of each species by cutting the stalk off just below the cap, placing the cap (stem-side down) over white or black paper (or both), and covering it with a small bowl or similar container. Light-colored spores show up better on black paper, dark spores on white paper. Leave it for an hour or more until the spore print develops.


2. Examine representative specimens of the mushroom and describe their significant characteristics, such as the color, surface features, shape, dimensions, and other relevant features of the cap, stalk, gills (or other spore-bearing parts), ring, cup, etc.  For this you need a mushroom field guide, which should give illustrations and names for the different characteristics. For example, a bell-shaped cap may be described as campanulate. David Largent's book How to Identify Mushrooms to Genus I: Macroscopic Features provides good illustrations of the various features.

Parts to examine and describe:

     cap (also called the pileus)

     cap surface

     cap margin

     spore-bearing surface (gills, tubes, pores, teeth etc.)

     stalk (stipe)

     ring on stalk, if any (veil or annulus)

     cup at base of stalk, if any (volva)


3. Follow the keys in one or more good, recent field guides to narrow down the possibilities. When you find one or more good possibilities, compare your description of your mushroom's features with the descriptions in several field guides, and compare your specimens with the pictures in the field guides.  Never rely on pictures alone for identification!


You may not have to do all of this if you have a pretty good idea what the mushroom is already. For example, if you’re hunting for chanterelles and find some mushrooms that you think may be chanterelles, you can skip some of these steps, such as using the keys. Just find the mushroom's description and illustration in a field guide or two and compare its features and appearance with those in the field guide. Even then, it’s best to get into the habit of making careful observations and writing them down before you look at a field guide. Otherwise it’s too easy to make the mushroom fit the description. If you’re convinced that the mushroom you’ve got is a chanterelle, you may discount anything in a field guide’s description that suggest it’s something else.



Xerula furfuracea (aka Collybia radicata)

Mushroom Field Guides


Here are some of the mushroom field guides I own. The starred books are good ones to start with (get all 3 if you can). Currently all of these books can be purchased from www.amazon.com if you can't find them in a bookstore. Click on the links to find more information and (usually) reviews from Amazon.


*Michael Kuo, 100 Edible Mushrooms. Because it's limited to a small number of species and includes basic information on identifying, collecting, preparing, and eating wild mushrooms, this is probably the best book for beginners. Kuo describes 18 mushrooms that are recommended for collection by beginners; the rest require some experience. Each species is described in considerable detail, the color photos are good, and Kuo has an entertaining writing style. The book i


*Gary H. Lincoff, The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. This book is somewhat flawed in that the color photos are separate from the descriptions, are not always of the best quality, and are identified only by "common names" that are different from the common names in other field guides. (As a rule, common names shouldn't be used to label any but the most common mushrooms, in part because there is no agreement among mushroomers as to what the common names should be.) That said, this book includes very detailed descriptions and avoids most technical jargon. I use it with the Phillips book, which has skimpier descriptions but better photos.


*Roger Phillips, Mushrooms and Other Fungi of North America. Contains more species than most mushroom field guides and includes over 1000 color photos. The photos are especially good because each photo shows several specimens, often at different growth stages, and usually positioned differently so that the important features can be seen. The descriptions are less detailed than those in some other field guides; I'd recommend using this book mostly for the photos and the Audubon field guide for its more detailed descriptions.


George Barron, Mushrooms of Ontario and Eastern Canada. This appears to be identical to another of Barron's books titled Mushrooms of Eastern North America. In any case, it should be as useful in the northeastern U.S. as it is in Canada. The color photos are not bad and the descriptions are quite free of technical jargon, but it shouldn't be used as your only field guide. I use it occasionally to check out or verify the photos and descriptions from the Audubon and Phillips books.


Kent H. McKnight and Vera B. McKnight, A Field Guide to Mushrooms: North America (Peterson Field Guide Series). As for the Audubon book by Lincoff, the authors of this field guide insist on using their own set of common names, which differ from those in Lincoff (see the following "Notes on Nomenclature"). The descriptions are good and not technical; I would use them to supplement the descriptions in the Audubon book. The illustrations are colored drawings rather than photos, and while drawings are sometimes useful to emphasize certain features, I find the photos in Phillips much more useful.


Alexander H. Smith and Nancy Smith Weber, The Mushroom Hunter's Field Guide The first edition of this book was the first mushroom field guide I owned and it is still a useful guide, with good keys and nice color photos. The descriptions are a bit more technical than those in the Audubor field guide. By themselves, the photos and descriptions are not sufficient for unqualified identification of most species, so I would use this book to supplement the starred field guides.


David Arora, Mushrooms Demystified. I haven't used this book much because it focuses on mushrooms of the central California coast and only has black-and-whit photos. But it does include species that occur in our area and includes useful and often entertaining information about the mushrooms. For example, in describing the common chanterelle he says "Cantharellus cibarius is the proud possessor of a plethora of popular pseudonyms..."


Thomas Laessoe and Gary Lincoff, Mushrooms (Smithsonian Handbooks). This book has good color photos and, unlike most mushroom field guides, uses captions pointing to the major identifying features on the photos. The descriptions and photos here aren't enough to identify most mushrooms with certainty, so don't use this book as your only field guide.


Alan E. Bessette, Arleen R. Bessette, David W. FIscher. Mushrooms of Northeastern North AmericaA large, pricy book with lots of species and detailed, technical descriptions. Most of the photos are quite good but a bit too small. Good for more advanced mycophiles.


Orson K. Miller, Jr. and Hope H. Miller, North American Mushrooms: A Field Guide to Edible and Inedible Fungi. This is basically a new edition of Orson Miller's Mushrooms of North America. Unlike the older book it has a photo for every species described, and the photos and descriptions are on the same page. The descriptions are a bit more technical than the ones in the Audubon field guide, but it has useful keys, which the Audubon book does not. 


Charles McIlvaine and Robert K. Macadam, One Thousand American Fungi (Dover edition). The first edition of this book was published in 1900 and the Dover edition in 1973, so it is hardly up to date and many of the names are obsolete; it helps that there is a list of nomenclature changes up to ~1970 in the Dover edition. McIlvaine was rumored to have a cast-iron stomach and he ate many species that are considered poisonous today, so his judgments about the edibility of species should not be relied on! Nevertheless this is an interesting book with keys and detailed descriptions, and it also gives English translations of some genus and species names.


David L. Largent and other authors, How to Identify Mushrooms to Genus. To identify an unknown mushroom you should first find out what genus it belongs to (see the "Notes on Nomenclature" that follow); then you can use keys to narrow it down to one or more possible species. So if you are serious about identifying the more difficult mushroom species, I suggest that you get at least some of the books in this set, especially Volume I on Macroscopic Features, Volume II on Field Identification of Genera, Volume III on Microscopic Features (if you have access to a good microscope),  and possibly Volume VI on Modern Genera. These books use a lot of technical terms, but most of the terms are described and illustrated in volumes I and III. 


Peter Jordan and Stephen Wheeler, The Ultimate Mushroom Book. This is a coffee-table book with superb color photos and a large number of illustrated recipes for wild mushroom dishes such as "Chicken of the Woods Saté with a Spiced Hazelnut Sauce," so it would be a good gift for a mushroom enthusiast. The descriptions aren't detailed enough to make it very useful as a field guide, but you may find the photos helpful. And the "preparation and cooking hints" included with each species description, as well as the directions for storage, should be invaluable to the wild mushroom gourmet.


Michael Kuo, Morels. If yout main interest is in the mushrooms that come up in the spring, this is an excellent guide to morel hunting, with good color photos and practically everything about morels that you'd want to know, including where to look for them.



Egg stage of Dictyphora duplicata


Notes on Nomenclature


Besides identifying mushrooms, an amateur mushroom hunter should be able to identify him/herself to other people with similar inclinations. First, you're not a mycologist (neither am I). A mycologist is an expert on fungi who has an advanced degree in mycology (the study of fungi) and ordinarily does research in the field. You can, however, call youself a mycophile (literally a fungus lover); someone with an interest in observing, collecting, and identifying wild mushrooms. You may also enjoy mycophagy—eating wild mushrooms. It is possible to be both a mycophile and a mycophagist.


A mycophile has to be able to communicate with other mycophiles by telling them, for example, what species of wild mushrooms he/she has collected or eaten lately. Although some well-known mushrooms are familiarly known by a common name—black morel, chanterelle, shaggy mane, inky cap etc.—most are not. To make up for this apparent shortcoming, some field-guide authors have (mistakenly, I think) provided coined names for the species they describe. For example, in the Audubon field guide Paxillus involutus is called the poison paxillus, while in the Peterson field guide it's called the naked brimcap; it is also known under names such as inrolled paxillus and brown chanterelle. Such names are usually not helpful and some (such as brown chanterelle, which implies edibility) are dangerously misleading. In addition, using common names to describe the species you've collected could lead to serious misunderstandings. For example, the Peterson field guide calls Gyromitra esculenta (which can be deadly) the false morel, but there are other mushrooms also known as false morels, including Verpa bohemica, which can be eaten safely by most people. Telling someone else about the delicious false morels you ate recently could induce them to sample the other kind of false morel, with unfortunate consequences. For these reasons you should ordinarily use the scientific name of a mushroom (which will be given in any field guide that describes that species) to identify it. Then if you tell a fellow mycophile about the delicious Verpa bohemicas you ate recently, there is much less likelihood of a misunderstanding. Unfortunately this practice isn't completely foolproof; even the scientific names of mushroom species may change as mycologists learn more about them. But the older names often continue to be used and recognized by amateur mushroom hunters, and they may be still be found in many field guides.


The scientific name of a mushroom consists of two parts; the name of the genus to which the mushroom belongs, which is capitalized, and the name of its species, which is not; both should be italicized. The species and genus names of a mushroom usually describe some characteristic of the mushroom or its genus.  For example, in the scientific name Lactarius piperatus the first word means "milk-giver" because of the tendency of mushrooms in this genus to exude a milky latex when cut, and the second word means "peppery," describing its acrid taste.  Most scientific names are derived from Latin (a few from Greek), and some amateur mushroom hunters may worry about commiting a faux pas by pronouncing one incorrectly. But even professional mycologists may disagree about how a genus or species name should be pronounced. For example, they can't agree on whether the important genus Amanita should be pronounced am-uh-nee'-tuh or am-uh-ni'-tuh. Michael Kuo's reccomendation is "Pronounce the Latin names of mushrooms any way that works for you..." However, if you're determined to learn some correct pronunciation, check out Tom Volk's website; he has a "mushroom of the month" feature that includes an audio recording of each mushroom's scientific name.



Amanita virosa (Destroying angel)

Collecting Wild Mushrooms for Eating


Important! Always confirm your identification of any wild mushroom that you expect to eat by comparing your specimens with the descriptions and illustrations in several reliable mushroom field guides.


If you’re familiar enough with a mushroom species that you’re sure you can identify it in the field and just want to collect it for eating, you should use a somewhat different procedure than when you're collecting mushrooms for study.


1. Take a flat-bottomed basket, a sturdy knife, paper or wax paper bags, a notebook, a pen or pencil, a compass or GPS, a mushroom brush and sturdy shoes. Bring insect repellent and sunscreen if necessary. Covering the bottom of the box with wet moss will help preserve the mushrooms.


2. Collect each specimen by cutting it off just above ground level, then field-clean it (remove dirt, leaves, and other debris) with the brush. Field-cleaning dirty specimens is advisable because once dirt gets between a mushroom's gills it is virtually impossible to remove. Put mushrooms of only one species in each bag; don't mix different species in the same bag.


3. Make a note of the location (or take a GPS reading) so you can find it again.



Boletus edulis (King bolete, porcini, cep, etc.)

Easy-to-Identify Mushrooms


Here are a few edible mushrooms that even an amateur should be able to identify accurately. However, mistakes are possible even with the "easy" mushrooms, so observe the features described very carefully and confirm your identification by comparing your specimens with the descriptions and illustrations from one or more reliable mushroom field guides or websites.


One disadvantage of relying only on a field guide is that it ordinarily has only one photo of each species, and the specimens in that photo may not be representative of the species or may be at a different stage of development than the specimens you collected. So the more photos you view, the better your chance of making a correct identification. The following photos are all linked to a CalPhoto web page or another web page that contains thumbnail (small) photos of a number of examples of that species. Clicking on the link (the scientific name, in blue) will take you to the web page, and clicking on a thumbnail will yield a full-size photo. Note that Fair Use provisions allow us to link to photos on a website so long as the photos are displayed on the original website and not on our own. If you are interested in downloading a photo from a website, however, you may have to request permission and/or pay a fee. For information about Fair Use, go to Using Online Photos.


Recipes for each of the following are given under Some Wild Mushroom Recipes.


Black Morel (Morchella angusticeps)

Collect around middle of May in conifers (esp. spruce) & poplars. May be abundant in recently burned areas.

1. Narrow cap has deep pits separated by black ridges. Like a honeycomb, not wrinkled or convoluted

2. Base of cap attached to stalk

Caution: Don't mistake a true morel for one of the false morels, especially those whose caps are wrinkled or folded but not pitted, which may be deadly.  Other kinds of false morels are pitted but their caps are not attached at the bottom of the stalk.


White Morel (Morchella esculenta), also known as Yellow Morel

Collect later in May in hardwoods.

1. Cap is yellow-brown and pitted, broader than that than black morel.

2. Cap is attached to stalk at its base.

See Caution above.


Common Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius)

Late summer and early fall under conifers (as jack pines) & oaks.

1. Mushroom is funnel shaped and more-or-less uniformly egg-yolk colored

2. Thick, blunt, forked, well-separated gills extend down stalk

3. Mild apricot odor (sometimes)

4. Spore print is white

Caution: The poisonous Jack-O'Lantern mushroom is somewhat similar but it grows in dense clumps on wood and its gills are narrow, not blunt.


Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus)

Late summer & fall in grassy areas & along roadsides.

1. Looks like an egg on a stick, with shaggy scales on a white cap

2. Gills & cap margin turn from white to pink to black and eventually liquefy


Gem-Studded Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum)  

Late summer and fall, open woods.

1. White ball, roundish at top, with conical spines

2. White, uniform interior when young (cut it open!)

Caution: Always cut open a suspected puffball before eating it. If the interior is not white and uniform (resembling a marshmallow) it is either too old to eat or some other mushroom, possibly the button stage of a deadly Amanita.


Hedgehog Mushroom (Hydnum repandum/Dentinum repandum)

Summer & fall on the ground under trees.

1. Biscuit-colored to orangish cap with yellowish-white teeth (pointed like tiny icicles) underneath

2. Cap margin irregular in older specimens

3. Stalk often slightly off-center

4. Spore print white

Look at illustrations of this mushroom in field guides to see what the "teeth" look like.


King Bolete (Boletus edulis) aka Porcini, Cep, Steinpilz, etc.

Summer & fall on ground under conifers & some deciduous trees.

1. Convex reddish-brown cap, becoming quite large

2. Tubes whitish, becoming greenish-yellow

3. Stalk white-webbed over upper 1/3

4. Taste not bitter

Most boletes are edible (or at least nonpoisonous) except those that have red tube mouths or turn blue when cut open. The bitter bolete (Tyopilus felleus) looks much like the king bolete but has a very bitter taste, so it's a good idea to taste a small piece of the cap before you cook up a batch.


Orange-Capped Scaber Stalk (Leccinum aurantiacum)

Aug-Sept on ground under trees.

1.  Orange-red cap with off-white pores

2.  Rough stalk with short, rigid projections (scabers) becoming brown to black

3.  White flesh turns burgundy, then almost black when cut


Sulfur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus)  aka Chicken-of the-Woods

May-Nov on living & dead trees.

1. Overlapping shelves of bright orange, more-or-less semicircular caps on wood

2. Sulfur-yellow pore surface on underside of cap

Eat young, tender caps or tender margins of older caps. Tastes somewhat like chicken breast.


Other Edible Mushrooms

The following mushrooms are somewhat more difficult to identify with certainty, so you should compare your specimens with the descriptions and illustrations in several field guides. 


Meadow Mushroom (Agaricus campestris), aka Pink-bottom

Aug-Sept in grassy areas as lawns & fields.

1. Looks like the white grocery-store mushroom, with a more-or-less white cap and a ring around the short white stalk

2. Gills are free from stalk, pink (not white!) in young specimens and chocolate-brown in older ones

3. Blackish-brown spores

4. No cup at base of stalk

5. Odor not unpleasant

Some similar mushrooms (especially those in wooded areas) may be somewhat toxic, so be sure your specimens are collected from open grassy areas.


Honey Mushroom (Armillariella mellea, A. ostoyae, other spp.) 

Sept-Nov on living or dead wood. Click on Honey Mushrooms to see a photo from our Photo Gallery.

1. Grows in clusters from bases of stumps or living trees

2. Honey-colored cap (pale amber, yellow brown, dark brown) with erect black hairs over center

3. Whitish gills becoming yellowish and spotted

4. White (not brown or rusty) spores

Take care. Don’t eat before checking it with several field guide. Cook thoroughly.



Honey mushrooms (Armilariella sp.)


Go to The Mushroom Page (2) For Information under the following headings.


Eating Wild Mushrooms  

Some Wild Mushroom Recipes 

Mushrooms on the Web


Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.