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The 5 Basic Steps for Identifying Mushrooms

This is for beginners wanting to learn more about identifying wild mushrooms where they live.  Let’s say you are on a walk or hike and happen to come across a cool looking mushroom.  What do you do next?  Here are the 5 basic steps.

Before we get started, PLEASE NOTE:  Don’t ever eat mushrooms that you’re not 100% certain you’ve identified correctly.  Mushrooms can be deadly poisonous if you consume the wrong one, and lookalikes do exist.  There are no second chances with some mushrooms.

Wow, that was serious.  Let’s get to the fun part!

  1. Take Pictures: Take a picture of what the mushroom is growing on.  Step back so the tree, debris, field, etc. is visible as well as the mushroom.  The mushroom can be very small in this picture.  Next, get a close-up picture of the side of the mushroom that includes the cap and stem, if it has a cap and stem.  Then take two pictures; one of the top, and one of the bottom of the mushroom.  You may have to harvest one to get a good picture of the bottom of the mushroom.  Also, take a close-up picture of the stem including where the gills, pores, etc. meet the stem.  Then take a picture of the very base of the mushroom where it attaches to the substrate.  That’s a total of 6 pictures.  To summarize, take a wide-angle pic, a close up side shot, top pic, bottom pic, stem pic, and the base of the stem where it meets what it’s growing on.  All of these pictures will help you identify the mushroom later without the need to harvest any if you don’t want to.  Also, these pictures will come in handy in step 3.  The pictured mushroom is a Pheasant Back or Dryad's Saddle mushroom (Polyporus squamosus).  Young specimens are edible and delicious when cooked.
  1. Purchase a mushroom identification book. There are thousands of different species of mushrooms in the world, so using literature to understand the different forms, colors, smells, habitats, etc. will help your identification skills immensely.  Also, once you learn the basics, you’ll be able to ID some mushrooms right away with 100% certainty.  Below are books that cover all of North America, but consider getting one for your specific region too.

Some books we recommend include:

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms

Musrhooms: How to Identify and Gather Wild Mushrooms and Other Fungi

Peterson Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America, Second Edition

  1. Join a mushroom identification Facebook group. Most of the Facebook groups for mushroom identification require you to know the basics of mushroom identification.  That’s where the books come in handy.  Since there are so many different species of mushrooms, providing the right pictures and details makes it much easier for group members and administrators to help you ID the mushrooms.  Below are links to two great groups.  We also recommend joining a mushroom identification group that focuses on your specific region.

The Mushroom Identification Group

Mushroom Identification for Serious Learners

  1. Get outside in the woods, and start looking for mushrooms. You will be amazed how many you find.  Take some pictures and practice your ID skills.  Submit inquiries on Facebook and you’ll be on your way to a positive ID.  With a little practice mushrooms like lion’s mane and morel are extremely easy to identify, and are gourmet choice edible mushrooms.  In other words, they are delicious!  Again, make sure you are 100% sure of its ID before consuming any mushroom.  All mushrooms are safe to touch.  Most mushrooms are safe to smell too.  Just avoid inhaling spores from any mushroom that produces a cloud of spores, like puffball mushrooms.

  1. Join your local Mycological Society. Who better than experienced mycology enthusiasts to mentor you in your pursuit of fungi knowledge?  Many areas across the globe have groups that get together to forage for mushrooms and learn about fungi.  Before you know it, you too will have some deep smarts in the fungi world.  Use the following link to find your local group.

North American Mycological Association

Comment below and let us which mushroom identification resources you find most useful. 

“Always Grow Culture.”

Pictured is a beautiful Chicken of the Woods mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus).  It's delicious and has a chicken like flavor.  This particular mushroom was harvested after taking this picture, cooked, and eaten.  What a treat!

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