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The Amateur Mycologist #3 - How To Identify A Mushroom With Macro Characteristics - A Beginners Guide

These posts are not for foraging. They are intended for entertainment and educational purposes only. These posts are not a field guide nor comprehensive in any way - their accuracy is not assured in any way. Do not eat wild mushrooms unless you are a professional or have a wealth of personal experience with a specific species. Do not make any foraging decisions based on these posts.

These Posts Contains No Information Regarding Edibility Or Toxicity


There are a hell of a lot of mushrooms on the planet and identifying them isn't always easy.


What kind of mushroom is that? A purple one...? There is no way to just look at this mushroom and draw any definitive conclusions about what kind of mushroom it is.

This is where mushroom identification becomes really important. Looking at this mushroom at first glance, you may just see a small purple mushroom. But there are several other traits which help us to identify it.

Look at the photo again. See the slight, light brown coloration on the cap? And see how a piece of detritus seems to be stuck to the cap. It means the cap, at some point, was a bit sticky. But it doesn't look slimy. Also, the mushroom is near a piece of wood, but seems to be growing next to it in the dirt and leaves. These are all important macro characteristics to consider. (A "macro" characteristic is just one that is not "micro" characteristic and can be seen with the naked eye.)

Let's pick this mushroom up and take a closer look.


Now look at the mushroom, and then at the picture at the top of this post. Which kind of mushroom cap do you think this looks closest to?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Personally, I think its slightly convex. But you probably noticed that it was either flat or convex.

Now let's flip it over and look underneath.


What do we you see here? First, you need to find out what kind of spore bearing surface is under the cap. Take a look at the photo and compare it to the picture on top again. Then scroll down when you have the answer.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . This mushroom has gills. Excellent.

Lets take a closer look at where the gills meet the stem.

blewit gills.jpg

Now compare this close up with the picture up top and see if you can identify what kind of gill attachment this mushroom has. There are a lot of options up there, but don't worry about finding the exact gill attachment, just try to see which ones clearly DO NOT apply to this mushroom

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . That might have been harder, but looking at the photo I think you probably saw that the gills were not decurrent or sub decurrent. It looks to me like they are some mix of emarginate, seceding and sinuate. But the exact answer isn't as important with gill attachment as other things, except to notice the gills are not running down the stem and are a bit detached. This is a little bit of a trick question, but I want to begin fostering your eye for details.

Let's take one more look at the underside


What other macro characteristics do you notice? The gills are purple and densely packed. The stem has slightly whiter purpler striations moving vertically down its length.

If you were actually in the forest, you would go ahead and smell the mushroom. If you smelled this mushroom, as I did, it would smell strongly mushroomy and almost sweet - very pleasant.

At this point, we know a lot more about this mushroom:

  • Grows on dirt
  • Purple cap with slight hint of brown
  • Cap was once sticky, now dry.
  • Purple, densely packed gills, not decurrent (running down the stem)
  • Slightly convex cap.
  • Light striations of color in thick stem.
  • Pleasant, sweetish mushroomy odor.
  • And, you wouldn't know this, but found around NYC.

There are a whole bunch of other things to take into account, but for now this will do.

The way to use all this information is to take it to a mushroom key.

Mycokey.org has a great one Here

When running things through the mycokey, if you aren't sure about something, leave it blank. Go ahead and try it, just putting in the characteristics you are sure about - like gills, cap shape, approximate colors and where it was growing, stuff like that.

Go do it now.

If you only filled in the stuff you are very sure about, you should end up with about a dozen possible mushrooms. How do you narrow that down?

Remember in The Mushroomer #2, we talked about how mushrooms are really just penises? Well, one big measurement we need to take is the color of the mushrooms spores.

The simplest way to do that is to put the mushroom on a piece of glass, spore surface down, and cover it, leaving it for several hours. You can use any transparent piece of glass, like a pyrex measuring cup for instance. You can also use black or white paper, but glass is more ideal to see the colors.

When you return, most mushrooms will leave beneath them on the glass a collection of spores called a "Spore Print."


That mushroom on the right is the same mushroom we've been looking at this whole time. As it got older, it lost it's purple color and became pale pink. The beautiful print beside it is a light cream pink color. Now, go back to the mycokey.org key and insert this final detail.

And, BOOM, you should have that 12 mushroom list fall down to just two - Lepista nuda and Entoloma euchrome.

Click on each option and compare them and it should be obvious to you which one is the mushroom we've been looking at.

**Lepista nuda, a.k.a the Blewit!


This is not a blewit, this is a mushroom from the genus Cortinarius.

But at a glance, on the forest floor, especially in a drizzle, this mushroom could easily be misidentified as a blewit. However, if you do the work we just went through with the blewit, then not only will you know it is not the same mushroom, but the differences will be obvious.

Here are some more pictures of the Cortinarius. Try to go through the same process we went through above with the Blewit and then run the details you are 100% sure about into the mycokey.org key.20121009_110311.jpg


If you've taken accurate observations you should get all Cortinarious options as a result. The spore print is centrally important!

That, all of that, is your basic introduction to the identification of mushrooms. It is a fulfilling and complex activity, and filled with endless variety. If you learn this skill, you will be able to apply it all over the world. I have found and identified mushrooms on four continents and it doesn't get old.

If you ever find a mushroom you can't identify, google mycology and your area. There are awesome online resources for budding mycologists, with the subreddit mycology being a great starting point for any inquiries.

This has been a super long post, and fairly complicated. I don't expect you to have absorbed it all - we haven't even touched on several important characteristics which will come up when needed later. I don't even expect this post to get a lot of upvotes or attention.

My goal in this post is to make a key for you all to refer back to, and for newcomers to the Mushroomer to get the lay of the land. I will link to this post in every future Mushroomer post and sometimes refer back to it.


Disclaimer 2

The only 100% way to avoid being hurt by a wild mushroom is not to eat a wild mushroom. These posts are not field guides - they are intended for the mycology enthusiast, not the forager. If you want to forage mushrooms there are professional resources available to that end online as well as local mycological societies all over the world which you should connect to for guidance.

Mushroom Poster Source

Sulfur Shelf Image Source

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