Mushroom of the Month: February, 2016
Psilocybe is primary genus of hallucinogenic mushrooms, containing such famous species as Liberty Caps (P. semilanceata), Cubes (P. cubensis), and the topic of this month’s article, Wavy Caps (P. cyanescens).
Almost always encountered on woodchips, Psilocybe cyanescens is an aggressive ruderal species, fond of disturbance in urban areas. It is especially common in the cold, wet winter months around the San Francisco Bay. Through a combinatin of unintentional and intentional transplantation by humans and natural dispersal, it has spread widely throughout the United States. In California, it occurs at least as far south as San Diego County, although it is fairly rare south of Santa Cruz County.
Psilocybe allenii is a recently-described species that is extremely similar in most respects. It is primarily differentiable by its less-wavy cap. See this link for more details:
Although only P. cyanescens and P. allenii occur with any regularity in Santa Cruz County, the further north one travels along the Pacific Coast, the more diverse the Psilocybe-assemblage becomes: P. baeocystis, P. azurescens, P. stuntzii, P. ovoideocystidiata, P. pelliculosa, and P. semilanceata all occur in this area, among those already mentioned.
Left photo: Specimens showing the tendency of the stipe bases to bring up large chunks of substrate tightly bound with tough rhizomorphs. Note the aqua to navy-blue stains and the wavy cap margins.
Right photo: Specimens that have not yet developed much blue staining. Note the umbonate caps that are becoming wavy, chestnut-caramel colored caps, bright white stipes, and button with a silky white cortina-type partial veil near the center.
Primary confusion species are other Psilocybe, but recreational users run the risk of confusing them with potentially-deadly Galerina marginata, as well as Pholiotina or Conocybe species. All of these have more fragile stipes, bright rusty-orange spore deposits, and lack strong blue staining on all parts.
These rusty-spored wood-chip dwellers sometimes grow right alongside Psilocybe species, posing a serious danger to inexperienced recreational pickers. The softer stipe texture, lack of blue staining, and rusty spore deposit help distinguish them.
P. cyanescens and its relatives are widely cultivated and collected for recreational use by a global populaton of neuronauts and other adventure-seekers. Effects of ingestion include wondrous and/or overwhelming visual enhancements/disturbances, heightened sensations, cyclical and often “swelling” feelings of ecstasy, euphoria and connection to place, people, Nature, Time, and the Universe; but can also result in feelings of fear, unease, disconnection, and loss of sense of Self. As with any psychedelic drug, personal predispositions and psychic peculiarities in combination with details of set and setting exert a heavy influence on the tone of the trip.
Note from The Powers That Be: In the United States, psilocybin-containing mushrooms are classified as Schedule 1 drugs, illegal to possess, sell, transport, or cultivate (this includes spores in the State of California).