Friday, April 8, 2011

Mushroom ID 101: No One's Dead Yet

Posted by Amy Baranski

**UPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect the true cost of the Beginner Mushroom ID class $40 (that's a steal). Also, the next beginner series will be held September 2011.**

Our people!
“We've never had a death in our club.”

The teacher then knocked on wood.

So began our introduction to the Beginner's Mushroom Identification class, reasonably priced at $45.00 $40.00. To enroll, you have to join the Puget Sound Mycological Society (PSMS), which is worth your time if you're serious about eating wild mushrooms.

The class runs 4 weeks: two hours every Thursday night at the Center for Urban Horticulture at the UW. Our first class served as a primer for learning about the parts of a mushroom, how to create a spore print, expert ID resources and proper specimen samples, and rules of edibility.

What's a Mushroom?

PSMS defines fungi as neither plants nor animals.

They are multicellular organisms whose bodies consist of a mass of root like threads. They grow on substrate, (organic matter) such as soil, leaf matter, wood, or even the chafe of grain, for example. Each mushroom has different requirements and therefore different substrates.

Example of a wood substrate.
The main body of the organism is called mycelium which serves to digest the substrate. So, mushrooms growing out of dead wood are using the wood as substrate and eating it. In that way mushrooms are like animals because they don’t create food for themselves as plants do during photosynthesis.

There are many parts of a mushroom, each species having its own set of parts, and each part having a name or multiple names. For example, the ring is also called the annulus or belt. The stem is also known as the stipe. Learning this new vocabulary is essential to becoming proficient in mushroom identification.

Most simply put: the mushroom that you pick is the fruiting body of the organism. Much like an apple is to an apple tree or a strawberry to a strawberry plant.

For more information on the Kingdom of Fungi refer to Tom Volk’s presentation.

Spore Prints

The family of a mushroom is determined by the spore color. Therefore, making a spore print will help in identification purposes. For the crafty at heart spore prints can also become art.

To make a spore print, turn the mushroom onto a glass plate or piece of paper (some people use newsprint) the side of the mushroom that goes down is the side that contains the spores. You remove the stipe (or stem) to do this. If the mushroom is large then you cut a portion of it. Then, place a cup over the specimen.
The spores will gradually drop onto your media leaving behind a print, like a fingerprint. Sometimes this will happen quickly. But waiting overnight is a good rule of thumb.

For more details on this process Michael Kuo offers a nice write-up on making spore prints.

Expert Specimen ID Resource

The PSMS offers a great public service with their mushroom ID clinics which are held on Mondays during the spring and autumn wild mushroom season from 4-7pm at the Center for Urban Horticulture. The next ID clinic will resume Monday April 18 in conjunction with the Master Gardener's clinic.

This would be the perfect place to bring your unknown specimen for expert identification and further context to understand the organism’s habitat and cultural requirements. Also, if you have plant problems or gardening inquiries you can speak to the Master Gardeners on staff for more information.

Make sure to bring:

  • The whole mushroom specimen. So dig down a little and get the Volva (the cup) if it has one. Cutting some of the mycelium is OK, and even including a little soil can be helpful for the master identifier.
  • Try to keep the specimen intact!
  • Bring an older specimen and a younger one if you can. This will show the identifier different parts of the lifecycle.
  • In advance of the clinic store your specimen in a paper bag in the refrigerator this way it won’t mold.
Rules of Edibility
  1. Make sure of identification. If someone says "I KNOW what that is!" and you don’t you better trust that person with your life.
  2. Only eat fresh specimens (this does not mean raw; refer to rule #4). If it feels squishy it's squishy. If it smells rotten it's rotten.
  3. Only eat 1 type of mushroom that's new to you at a time. (Just in case something bad happens).
  4. Always cook wild mushrooms.
  5. Only eat a judicious amount the first time.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert. These are my notes, if you want to learn more about mushroom identification get expert guidance by joining your local mycological society.


Patrice said...

“We've never had a death in our club" from eating wild mushrooms!
Also the cost of instruction is $40 for 4 classes for members of Puget Sound Mycological Society. The next series of classes begins in September. (
City and State parks have differing regulations for picking mushrooms and other plants and fruits. Check with the park before foraging.Since parks are used by many of the city's and State's residents, please be mindful that everyone may want to see the mushrooms. Field trips with PSMS ( are a great way to learn and discover and forage for Wild Mushrooms.

Melissa Baumgart and Amy Baranski said...

“We've never had a death in our club" from eating wild mushrooms! (Love the qualifier there)

Thanks for reading Patrice! I updated this post and also the post on Urban Foraging with your comments to make sure the info is right up top.

Question: Is it possible to practice making a spore print with a store-bought cultivated mushroom?

Anonymous said...

OK today I met up with a friend, who actually purchased foraged mushrooms at a Sunday Market in France, where she frequently shops, it was a beautiful basket of various kinds of mushroom. She said gorgeous looking each one. Guess was poisonous and she became very ill, treated by a physician she over came the numbness yes enjoy your class and learn all you can, since it can prove to be possibly fatal...not always. I'm happy you are taking the class with the Puget Sound Mycological Society, to forage for mushroom, one must be educated in what you've found and are going to eat. Good to take this months "passion quest" seriously. Love you, MOM

Melissa said...

Wow, Mom! Quite a story. I may post that to our FB page.
Our teacher did say, which I think Amy mentioned...if you take someone else's word for it that a mushrooms is not poisonous, you better trust that person with your life. I am excited to learn more for myself, about what is edible and what is not.

Patrice said...

It is surely possible to do a spore print on a store bought mushroom such as a white button which is open, so search for a "mature" specimen. Also Portobellas are excellent spore print candidates as they have been allowed to mature. Knowledge is power.