Identifying Mushrooms

There are a number of old sayings and folklore associated with identifying mushrooms.  Some people believe that all mushrooms are edible and that only toadstools are poisonous.  Some believe that if you put a silver spoon into a pot of boiling water with a mushroom and the spoon turns black, the mushroom is poisonous.  Another saying is that if a mushroom cap peels easily, the mushroom is edible.  You should disregard these “old wives tales,” and never eat mushroom unless you are absolutely sure that they are edible. 

Fungi depend on decaying wood, soil, manure or other plants for their food.  Mushrooms are just one kind of fungi that can be found in woods, pastures and even lawns.  Mushrooms come in many shapes and sizes.  A mushroom begins as a microscopic spore that is scattered by the wind, birds or animals.  If the spore lands in an area with a suitable amount of decaying material, it will form a root-like system which becomes the mushroom body.  With sufficient moisture, the “fruit” or body will push its way above ground.  This is the part of the mushroom that most people eat.  It is also the part of the mushroom that will produce other spores. 

There are 5 things that help with the proper identification of a mushroom: shape of the mushroom, what the mushroom is grown from, color of the spores or gills, approximate temperature during mushroom growth and where the mushroom is located. 

Here are a few edible mushrooms that are relatively common.  Meadow mushrooms, also known as pink bottoms, are commonly found in the fall and are plentiful enough that they often cover the ground.  Morels are also known as sponge mushrooms, appear in early spring and are one of the favorite of the edible mushrooms.  Morels have a spotted cap.   Sheepshead, are prized edible mushroom and are an extremely rare find.  They can be found around oak tree stumps and can occasionally weigh up to fifteen pounds!

Remember, learning to identify mushrooms can be fun, but don’t ever eat a mushroom unless you are absolutely certain what kind of mushroom it is and that it is safe to eat.  The best thing to do is to purchase a local field guide complete with pictures of the mushrooms that grow locally.  Here are a few online resources that can help you get started: Michael Kuo’s to Major Groups of Mushrooms at, David Fischer’s of Lawn, Garden & Home at, California: site describes over 435 species.