How to Identify Mushrooms

how to identify mushrooms

Mushroom identification can be a tricky and daunting task, especially for beginners. But with a little knowledge and practice, you can learn to safely identify different types of mushrooms in the wild. In this post, we’ll cover some of the most important factors to consider when trying to identify mushrooms, including physical, microscopic, and chemical characteristics, as well as other factors to consider and safety precautions.

How to Identify Mushrooms: Key Factors

Mushrooms are a fascinating group of organisms that can be found in many different habitats all over the world. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors and can be found growing on the ground, on trees, or even in the water. The list of mushroom substrates is vast! Some mushrooms are edible and delicious, while others are toxic and can be harmful or even fatal if consumed. And then, there’s the psychedelic kind that will send you on a trip to remember! So, it’s important to know how to identify mushrooms that you might come across.

Physical Characteristics

The most obvious way to identify a mushroom is by its physical characteristics, such as its size, shape, color, texture, and gill/stem/cap configuration. Different types of mushrooms will have other physical characteristics, and by learning to recognize these characteristics, you can often make a good guess at what type of mushroom you’re looking at.

Here are a few examples of physical characteristics that can be used to identify different types of mushrooms:

The Agaricus genus (meadow mushroom or champignon)

  • Has a white cap, stems, and gills. A distinctive smell like almonds or anise. Often found in grassland, gardens, and parks.

The Boletus genus (Boletes)

  • Has a round, smooth cap that can be brown, yellow, or red, and a meaty, dense stem. They often have large, thick, and round pores under the cap rather than gills. They are usually found in hardwood forests.

The Amanita genus (Destroying angels, Death cap)

  • Has a characteristic white cap, white gills, and a bulbous base from the stem. They are often found near, or in association with oak trees, they are poisonous and can cause severe liver and kidney damage.

There are many other types of mushrooms with different physical characteristics, so make sure to take a good look at the mushroom you’ve found and compare it to pictures or illustrations of different types of mushrooms. It is recommended to take a picture of the mushroom, so you can go back to it and compare it later.

Never eat mushrooms if you are not 100% sure they are safe! 

Microscopic Characteristics

While physical characteristics can be a good starting point for identifying mushrooms, some species can only be identified by their microscopic characteristics. These include spore print color and veil structure.

A spore print is a way to determine the color of the spores a mushroom produces, which can be helpful in identifying certain types of mushrooms. To make a spore print, simply place a mushroom cap, gills, or pores down on a piece of white paper and cover it with a bowl. Leave it overnight, and in the morning, you’ll be able to see the spore print, which will be the color of the spores the mushroom produced.

Different types of mushrooms will have different spore print colors. For example, the Agaricus genus has a pink-brown spore print, while the Boletus genus has a brown spore print.

The veil structure is a protective structure that surrounds the mushroom when young, and it’s also a characteristic that can help identify certain types of mushrooms. For example, the Amanita genus has a characteristic universal veil that covers the mushroom when young, giving it a bulbous base.

Chemical Characteristics

Certain chemical tests can be used to identify certain types of mushrooms. These include the KOH test and the FeSO4 test. The KOH test is used to identify whether a mushroom’s cap is hygrophanous or not. A hygrophanous cap changes color when wet or dry, while a non-hygrophanous cap will retain its color. 

The FeSO4 test is used to identify the presence of an iron compound called “atromentin” in mushrooms. The Agaricus genus will turn yellow when exposed to FeSO4, while the Boletus genus will turn a blue-green color.

Other Factors to Consider

When trying to identify mushrooms, it’s also important to consider other factors such as location, season, and habitat. Some types of mushrooms only grow in certain regions or climates, and others are only found during specific times of the year. Additionally, certain types of mushrooms are more likely to be found in certain types of habitats, such as hardwood forests or meadows. Although many more can easily be grown both indoors and outdoors.

Safety Precautions

As mentioned before, it’s important to be absolutely sure of the identification before consuming any mushrooms. Some mushrooms are toxic and can be harmful or even fatal if consumed. It’s also important to note that some edible mushrooms can be mistaken for poisonous mushrooms. When in doubt, it’s best to err on the side of caution and not eat the mushroom.

It’s also a good idea to keep a field guide or a mushroom identification app with you when out hunting for mushrooms, and make sure to record and document your observations so that you can refer back to them in the future.

Mastering Mushroom ID

Mushroom identification can be challenging, but with knowledge and practice, you can safely identify different types of mushrooms in the wild. Remember to take notes and pictures and keep a log of your findings while considering factors such as physical characteristics, microscopic characteristics, chemical characteristics, location, season, and habitat. This process of repetition will help to solidify your understanding and make it easier to identify mushrooms in the future. Always be cautious, and if in doubt, don’t eat it!

Grow Your Own Mushrooms With Shrüm

Growing your own mushrooms is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with the various characteristics of different mushroom species. The Shrüm Grow Kit from Advanced Mycology makes it easy to grow many kinds of mushrooms at home with a simple and straightforward process. 

The kit includes a special substrate blend that provides optimal nutrients to the spores and unique filter strips that allow for the circulation of oxygen and CO2, just as mushrooms need it to thrive. Once the spores or liquid culture are inserted into the injection port, place the kit in a cool spot and wait for the mushrooms to sprout. This hands-on experience will provide you with not only a tasty harvest but also an opportunity to observe the growth and development of mushrooms, which will assist you in identifying them in the wild.