Mushroom hunters can quickly identify a wide assortment of fungal species. This isn't a skill developed overnight; many hours of dedication and experience are needed to obtain this knowledge. There are millions of species of fungi, and many look nearly identical to an untrained eye. A misidentified mushroom could lead to severe illness or death.
Where to begin?
Learning how to identify mushrooms doesn't have to be intimidating. Mushroom foraging is actually a rewarding and tranquil hobby, but you must respect the fungi and proceed with caution. It is best to start out slow with easily identifiable species with distinct attributes. Region-specific field guides are essential to isolate common species nearby. When I began learning how to identify mushrooms, I created "wanted lists" of 2-5 species and set out into the woods to locate them. At first, only photograph and observe the mushrooms. Try researching the species you find. There are many websites and forums online where experts can aid you in proper identification.
Joining a local mushroom foraging groups is another excellent place to start. Specialists in your area will offer you the needed guidance to hone your abilities and build your confidence. There are also mushroom identification classes you could take to become certified. These credentials are required if you would like to sell your foraged mushrooms.
Common Types of Mushrooms
Mushrooms come in several shapes and sizes. Non-scientific group names are used to quickly narrow down the identity of a species. Below you'll find many of the common groups:
- Gilled Mushrooms
- Bracket fungi
- Jelly fungi
- Cup Fungi
- Earth Tounges
Mushrooms have particular characteristics to distinguish themselves from one another. Studying mushroom morphology will enable you to drill down on certain aspects of the form and structure of a mushroom that will aid in identification. Eventually, you'll create a mental checklist of the features you'll need to examine.
Identifying Poisonous Mushrooms
It is wise to familiarize yourself with the poisonous species of mushrooms because many edible mushrooms have deadly look-alikes. I can't stress this enough, Never consume a mushroom unless you are 100% certain of its identity. Wait until your knowledge and proficiency are adequate before risking eating any of the mushrooms you discover. The tiniest mistake could result in dire consequences.
Habitat and Season
Habitat and season are telltale indicators for mushroom identification. Many species only grow in particular geographic locations. A local field guide is beneficial for referencing the fungi in your area.
The substrate a mushroom is growing on can yield loads of valuable information. Narrow down the possible species by determining the type of forest it was located in, such as coniferous, deciduous, etc. As some fungi are closely associated with specific kinds of trees. Many mycorrhizal mushrooms form a symbiotic relationship with particular plants to survive.
Season and climate provide significant insights into the type of mushroom you've found. Typically fall/autumn is the best season to find mushrooms. However, you'll discover fungi growing all year round. Some sot-after species such as morel are mostly found in the springtime.
Mushroom Species Catalog
Since creating this website, I've begun cataloging the fungi I've spotted in my travels. It isn't impressive yet, but it will certainly grow with time. So far all species are isolated to western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh).