Intro to Mushroom Collecting and Identification (by Author Unknown)

What is the best way to learn about collecting?

  • Clitocybe odora by Christian Schwarz Join an amateur collecting group like the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz.
  • Go on organized forays and learn from those who know.
  • Spend time with people doing identifications at forays or other events.
  • Take classes like those offered by the FFSC or more formal university classes.
  • Get a good field guide and spend time with it. The best for central California is Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora (available at FFSC stores at the Fungus Fair).
  • Best of all, do all of the above or at least some combination.

Getting started

  • Mushrooms in a basket via Wikimedia Equip yourself with the basics: good field guide, rigid collecting container (wicker baskets are best), knife, small trowel for digging, small brush for cleaning, wax paper, wax paper sandwhich bags or paper bags (NEVER plastic) to hold your collections; a pad of paper and pencil to take field notes.
  • Find a good area to collect mushrooms. Habitat is important: Oak, Madrone, Fir, Pine and Manzanita support good fruiting while Redwood, Bay Laurel and Eucalyptus do not. Note that it is illegal to collect in most state parks. Check the rules for regional parks.
  • Keep it simple. Focus on one genus or several of the easier mushrooms to ID.
  • When selecting target species, keep seasonality in mind. Oysters and Honeys come up in the fall while black trumpets come up in the winter to spring. Many mushrooms only come up one time, and in specific times, of the year.
  • Make a collection of each species you want to identify, from young to old.  Keep collections separate from each other (wax sandwhich bags are best for this).
  • Make detailed notes about the habitat where you have found your collections and put those notes in with them. Especially note if they were growing on wood or what type of trees they were near.

Doing the identifications

  • Mushroom section Learn the language. As with any science, knowledge of the specific terms is vital. Mycology (study of mushrooms) is no different. All field guides will use terms specific to Mycology.
  • Learn the different parts of the mushroom: cap (pileus), stem (stipe), gills (lamellae), pores, ring (annulus, partial veil), universal veil (remnants found on the top of the cap and base of the stem).
  • Develop keen observation skills: note size, color, texture of cap or stem, overall shape, specific shape of stem (short, long, thin, hollow, bulbous at the base, etc.), position of the attachment of the stem to the cap or if a stem even exists, does the cap or stem exhibit any color changes with cutting or bruising, attachment of the gills, etc.
  • Take good field photos for assistance in identification later.  Specimens will often get damaged in handling especially the small delicate or easily bruised species.
  • Spore Print Take a spore print. This is obtained by cutting the stem off of the mushroom and laying the cap on a piece of white paper, with the bottom of the mushroom down.  Wait up to 2 hours and then note the color of the deposit.  Most field guides start with this feature. 
  • Carefully go through your field guides noting features as directed by the keys.
  • Once you have a tentative identification, read the full description to be sure ALL features match.
  • If unsure, get assistance from a learned colleague or take a class for assistance (like those offered by the FFSC).