Identifying Mushrooms

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

Anyone unfamiliar with fungi might associate the mushrooms you find growing outside or even the ones for sale at the supermarket with the term mushroom. The actual vegetative part that lives for a long time is found under the ground and is called mycelium, the ‘mushrooms’ you’re familiar with are solely fruiting bodies- a bit like apples on a tree.

The mycelium can be compared to plant roots, only that it a mushroom isn’t anything like a plant; it doesn’t photosynthesise and instead feeds on plant or animal, either living or dead. The mycelium is composed of thin tubes known as hyphae. In the illustration above you can see each hyphae, the bunch of them branch and grow into what is known as the mycelium.

So are you intrigued yet?

Fungi are bizarre, mysterious little things. They lack chloroplasts and cannot photosynthesis like plants, making them unable to produce their own food. Evolutionarily they’re actually more closely related to humans than plants!

One of the most famous mushrooms, Amanita muscaria

Mycology, the study of fungi is a relatively new science and there is yet much to find out about mushrooms. There aren’t many mycology courses, but if you do some research there might be a group of fungi loving individuals that you could join! e.g. within the UK ‘Field Studies Council’ offers short fungi courses.

It can be really daunting trying to find books on mushroom identification when you’re only just beginning your journey down mushroom lane. As an amateur myself I’m still learning but I’ve managed to find a fair amount of helpful, comprehendible mushroom guides to identify those wonderfully mysterious fruiting bodies out and about.

If you’re on Facebook make use of this group where mushroom lovers help each other identify species. Mushrooms can be extremely difficult to identify with 100% certainty, so if unsure you really shouldn’t go about munching away on them.

My first recommendation is Mushrooms by Thomas Læssøe & Gary Lincoff. It’s a simple book with some really handy and comprehendible information on mushroom identification. The photography is stunning and shows each different mushroom in great detail. This is a great book to start learning typical mushroom identification vocabulary.

Possibly the handiest and smallest guide I own is the Collins gem Mushrooms by Patrick Harding & Alan Outen. It’s compact, fits into your pocket and there isn’t any reason to not take this book with you. It has a simple key to identify mushrooms with and has reasonably helpful photographs.

A rather large but very informative book, The Illustrated Book of Mushrooms & Fungi by Dr Mirko Svrcek is filled with 310 pages of mushroom-y goodness . A nice addition to the gorgeous mushroom paintings are the spore illustrations. This book is definitely a must have if you love illustration. It also goes in depth about morphology, reproduction, classification and much more that might be interesting if you’re wanting to dive deeper into the mysterious world of fungi.

helpful links

British Mycological Society

Mycologos (online courses from Spring 2019)

Mushroom Academy (free online course for beginners)

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