Learning how to identify poisonous mushrooms is an important part of finding edible mushrooms. Amanita is a very common genus of mushrooms and some of the most poisonous mushrooms belong to this group. Check the visual characteristics of the fungus and its spore prints. Many species are also edible, but bear some resemblance to poisonous mushrooms. Learn how to identify poisonous mushrooms effectively with a field guide and by joining a local mycology group.
Method 1 of 3: Determining the Characteristics of the Amanita Mushroom
Step 1. Check the color of the mushrooms
Most Amanita mushrooms range in color from red, orange, yellow, white, or gray. Some Amanita are also red if they are cracked or bruised.
While many of the mushrooms in this color range belong to the genus Amanita, you can't identify them by color alone. In addition to color, check for other characteristics, such as the shape of the umbrella and the presence of scales or warts to help determine the classification of the fungus
Step 2. Check for the presence of a mushroom umbrella which is shaped like an umbrella
The Amanita mushroom has a very wide inverted U-shaped umbrella. This umbrella shape can also be described as a parachute.
Step 3. Check if the umbrella looks dry or slimy
All Amanita mushrooms have dry umbrellas, meaning they don't have the slimy or wet appearance of many other varieties. Touch the umbrella and see if it feels dry to the touch or wet and sticky.
If it's been raining recently and you're not sure if the umbrella is really slimy or it's just a build-up of water, set the mold aside for a day or two and watch if the surface dries out
Step 4. Observe for scales or warts on the mushroom umbrella
Most Amanita mushrooms have faded patches on their umbrellas that make them stand out. These patches can be brownish scales on white mushrooms or white warts on red ones.
- Warts tend to look like rows of small, raised dots.
- The spots on the mushrooms are the remnants of the universal hood that encloses the mushrooms when they are young.
Step 5. Dig up the mushrooms to see if there is a kind of rounded cup around the base
Use a pocket knife to carefully dig the mushrooms out of the soil. The base at the base of the stem will appear very round and cup-shaped.
- Not all mushrooms have a tuber-like base so this can be a good indicator of distinguishing Amanita mushrooms.
- The bulb at the base of the mushroom is also part of the universal cap that forms when the fungus is young.
- As you dig, dig deep around the mushroom so you don't cut off the base. This is because tubers are usually very fragile and can tear easily.
Step 6. Check if there is a ring right under the mushroom umbrella
Most Amanita mushrooms have a distinctive ring around the stem. It is the same color as the trunk, but its presence can be easily seen.
- You have to look at the mushroom from the bottom up or dig it up from the ground to see the ring.
- This ring is called the annulus or partial hood and is the part of the stem that tears as the fungus grows taller.
Step 7. Examine the white gills on the underside of the mushroom umbrella
Turn the mushrooms over and check the color of the gills. Amanita mushrooms usually have white or very pale gills which can be the easiest feature to distinguish poisonous mushrooms from other mushrooms.
Step 8. Make a spore print and check if it is white
Cut the stem of the mushroom from the umbrella with a pocket knife. Gently push the mushroom umbrella to press the gills against the black sheet of paper. Wait overnight and check if the spore print on the paper is white.
Although there are some Amanita mushrooms that do not have white or pale gills, this type of fungus will still produce white spore prints. The results of this identification will convince you more
Method 2 of 3: Identifying Similar Mushrooms
Step 1. Distinguish a real morel mushroom from a non-existent one by observing the shape and interior of the umbrella
Real morel mushrooms have an umbrella that is fully attached to the stem, while fake morel has an umbrella that hangs freely from the stem. Split the two umbrellas lengthwise and examine the interior. The inside of a real morel umbrella-that is, from top to bottom of the umbrella attached to the stem-will be completely hollow. On the other hand, the inside of the faux morel umbrella will have a squiggly look that looks like cotton and lint.
Furthermore, real morel umbrellas are usually uniform and longer than the stem, while fake morels are usually irregular, dented, and shorter than the stem
Step 2. Make a spore print to identify the green spore parasol fungus from the shaggy parasol
Both species of mushrooms look similar to the white button mushrooms found in convenience stores. The green spore parasol mushroom is poisonous and can have serious consequences if consumed, while the shaggy parasol can be eaten. The spore prints of green spore parasol mushrooms will be green or gray, while shaggy parasols will produce cream colored spores.
In North America, the green spore parasol mushroom is the most commonly consumed poisonous mushroom species. This fungus usually grows in the summer and fall, especially after heavy rains
Step 3. Examine the gills to distinguish chanterelle mushrooms from Jack o'lanterns
Chanterelle mushrooms have false gills, meaning the gills cannot be separated from the umbrella without damaging them. In contrast, Jack o'lantern mushrooms have real gills that are forked, like blades, and can be separated without damaging the umbrella.
- The chanterelle's gills also looked like they had melted.
- The spread of the fungus can also indicate the species. Chanterelle mushrooms only grow near trees and do not cluster in large groups. Meanwhile, Jack o'lantern mushrooms grow in dense clusters and can appear in places without trees, such as in the middle of a field.
- Chanterelle mushrooms are safe to eat, while Jack o'lanterns are highly toxic.
Step 4. Identify the honey fungus from the deadly Galerina fungus based on its spore prints
Safe and edible honey molds will produce white spore molds, while lethal Galerina will produce rust brown spore molds. Honey mushrooms also tend to have wider umbrellas than Galerina.
These fungal species are very similar and usually grow in the same locations, such as along the same tree stump. Honey mushrooms are very easy to find and you could accidentally add the deadly Galerina to your basket. That's why you should check mushrooms one by one
Method 3 of 3: Educate Yourself About Mushrooms
Step 1. Join a mycology group to learn how to identify different types of fungi
Use a search engine to find mycology groups in your area. Attend meetings and hunt with experts to learn how to distinguish edible mushrooms from poisonous mushrooms in the local area.
Local groups can usually be a good place to educate yourself about mushrooms because they will be the specialists on mushrooms found in your area. Mushrooms differ greatly between regions. So knowing which species are safe when you are hunting mushrooms will be invaluable knowledge
Step 2. Purchase a local field guide to learn about the types of mushrooms in your area
Field guide books can be purchased at your local bookstore or online. As much as possible, choose one that is specific to your area as the content will represent the varieties of mushrooms you will see while hunting.
- The local library can also be used as a place to find mushroom reference guidebooks.
- If you've joined a local mycology group, they may be able to recommend the best field guide for your area.
Step 3. Separate the mushrooms you find into 2 groups
The first group contains the mushrooms you have identified with confidence and the second group contains the mushrooms you have doubts about. Take two baskets with you when hunting for wild mushrooms and put mushrooms you believe are edible in the first basket and mushrooms you doubt into the second basket. Take any doubtful mushrooms to a specialist for identification.
- You won't get sick just by touching poisonous mushrooms. Mushrooms must be cooked or eaten first.
- Some types of mushrooms are very fragile and can crumble easily into flakes. This means that it's important to separate safe and edible mushrooms from these doubtful species, as you don't want tiny bits of poisonous mushrooms to get mixed up with the edible mushroom group.
Due to the large number of mushroom species, there are no really clear rules about how to identify poisonous mushrooms from edible ones. Strict guidelines on the characteristics to look for to identify the genus Amanita are by no means an exhaustive list of all types of poisonous mushrooms. Similarly, some types of mushrooms that are safe and edible may have the characteristics included in this guide
- Mushrooms that look alike are common. This occurs when the poisonous variety resembles a safe and edible type of mushroom. That's why identifying the type of mushroom correctly is so important.
- Seek emergency medical attention if you have consumed an unidentified wild mushroom or experience symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, or difficulty breathing after eating wild mushrooms.
- Never eat wild mushrooms unless a mycologist (fungal identification expert) has confirmed that they are edible. Eating wild mushrooms without properly identifying them is dangerous and can have deadly consequences.
- There are many types of mushrooms that differ in appearance depending on the climate and environment in which they are grown. Therefore, if you can correctly identify a type of fungus in one location, it does not mean that you can correctly identify similar fungi in a different location.