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based on easily observed field characteristics for the recognition of our mushrooms

by Gary Lincoff

Following the Beginners Page “Key to Non-Gilled Mushrooms for Beginners,” we can now look at our most conspicuous mushroom groups and their look-alikes. These groups and their look-alikes can be recognized in the field. No special equipment is needed, no microscopes or chemicals, no DNA sequencing ... just field experience.

We recognize two big divisions in the mushrooms that we collect: the Ascomycetes and the Basidiomycetes. The former include the cup fungi, morels, earth tongues, truffles, and fungi such as dead man’s fingers. Almost all other fungi we collect are Basidiomycetes. You might think a microscope is needed to see the difference but for most fungi that is not necessary. There are, however, a number of Basidiomycetes that resemble Ascomycetes until you look at them closely.

This is an artificial but eminently practical arrangement of our mushrooms that has been used effectively for field recognition of mushrooms for hundreds of years, and, despite cutting edge technology, it is still being used and promoted today (see Fungi by Brian Spooner and Peter Roberts. Collins, 2005). No attempt has been made here to be encyclopedic in coverage; the diversity of these mushroom groups can be seen in the Audubon Guide. I have selected examples that best represent these groups and put the emphasis on what can also be seen and read about in the Audubon Guide. There are thousands of similar mushrooms in our woods; only a very small number of these appear in mushroom field guides, and an even smaller number are illustrated here.

The PHOTOS are by Art Bailie, Peter Katsaros, Gary Lincoff, and Sam Ristich. The LINE DRAWINGS are by Bunji Tagawa.

The NON-gilled mushrooms can be divided into the following eleven groups:

A. Ascomycetes

          1 Cup Fungi

                    a. Peziza: resembling cups or saucers, usually small, easily overlooked, and fragile; sometimes brightly colored. See Audubon Guide for diversity of cup fungi in our area; spring – fall.

                    b. Morels: only 3 kinds are usually recognized in our area: all have hollow pitted heads & stalks; spring.

                    c. False Morels: some look more like brains than morels; one looks like a saddle mushroom; spring - fall.

                    d. Saddle Mushrooms: saddle-shaped mushrooms on stalks; summer and fall.  Helvella

                    e. Earth Tongues: used here to include the black earth tongues as well as some fleshy fungi with heads somewhat differentiated from their stalks; spring – fall. Leotia, Mitrula, Trichoglossum

          2 Truffles: distinguishing feature here is the cross-section of a cut truffle: it’s marbled inside; summer & fall.

          3 Flask Fungi

                    a. Dead Man’s Fingers: club-like but tough; if black, then white within; summer and fall. Xylaria

                    b. Caterpillar Mushrooms: Cordyceps can be found on either over wintering insects or false truffles; stalked, with a top (or head) that is dotted with spore sacs; summer and fall. Cordyceps

                    c. Cramp Balls (or Carbon Balls): small, round, dark, hard, on wood; cross-section reveals concentric zones; year-round. Daldinia

                    d. Mushroom Molds: mold-like but variable in color; particular kinds occur on specific hosts, like Russula, Boletes, and Amanita rubescens; summer and fall. Hypomyces

B. Basidiomycete Fungi (non-gilled)

          4 Jelly Fungi: these fungi often resemble other kinds of mushrooms: the Wood Ear a cup fungus, the Jelly Tooth a tooth fungus, and the Tough Jelly Coral, a coral mushroom; spring – fall. Auricularia, Calocera, Dacrymyces, Pseudohydnum, Tremella, Tremellodendron et al.

          5 Chanterelles & Black Trumpets: chanterelles are mostly yellow to red, and look like gilled mushrooms but have thick fold edges and cross-veins; Black Trumpets are grayish to black and are trumpet-shaped; summer. Asterophera, Cantharellus, Craterellus, Gomphus et al.

          6 Coral Fungi: variable in appearance; can be worm-like, branched like underwater coral, or club-like; often yellowish to orange; summer and fall.  Clavaria, Clavicorona,  Clavulina, Clavulinopsis, Ramaria, Sparassis, Thelephora et al.

          7 Tooth Fungi: these have spine-like teeth under the cap but the mushrooms can be either stalked (on the ground) or stalkless (on trees); in the latter case looking either like icicles or a layered polypore; summer and fall.  Bankera, Climacodon, Hericium, Hydnellum, Hydnochaete, Hydnum, Irpex, Odontia, Steccherinum, Trichaptum (toothed form)  et al.

          8 Parchment Fungi: a very common group of fungi on wood with a more or less smooth surface under the projecting cap: no pores like polypores; summer and fall. Stereum, Xylobolus et al.

          9 Polypores: various and numerous and perennial forms remaining over winter; nearly all (there are conspicuous exceptions) share a couple of common features: on wood, stalkless, fleshy to usually hard, and with a pore-like surface under the cap. Bjerkandera, Bondarzewia, Coltricia, Daedalea, Daedaleopsis, Fistulina, Fomes, Ganoderma, Inonotus,   Laetiporus, Meripilus, Oligoporus, Oxyporus, Phaeolus, Phellinus, Piptoporus, Polyporus, Pycnoporus, Schizopora, Trametes, Trichaptum (poroid form) et al.

          10 Boletes: like polypores but with cap and stalk, on the ground, and fleshy and easily decayed; summer and fall.  Austroboletus, Boletus, Gyrodon, Gyroporus, Leccinum, Phylloporus, Strobilomyces, Suillus, Tylopilus, Xanthoconium, Xerocomus et al.

          11 Gasteromycetes (Puffballs & their look-alikes)

                    a. True Puffballs: thin-skinned with spores emerging from a hole opening up in the center of the puffball; on the ground or on wood; immature forms can be confused with various species of Amanita, including the Destroying Angel, but a cross-section will show the puffball to have an undifferentiated context, whereas a cross-section of an unopened Amanita “egg” will show the outline of a mushroom cap, gills, and stem; summer and fall. Lycoperdon

                    b. Giant Puffballs: no central hole for spores to escape; instead these fungi flake apart and disintegrate; late summer and fall.  Langermania

                    c. Earthballs (or False Puffballs):  thick-warty-skinned, usually yellowish brown; cross-section reveals an off-white (immature) to blackish (spore color) interior; on the ground, often under oaks; summer and fall. Astraeus, Scleroderma

                    d. Earthstars: puffball-like with an outer skin that splits into distinct arm-like pieces, revealing the puffball-like interior; the whole sometimes resembling a lunar lander; on the ground; summer and fall. Geastrum

                    e. Stalked Puffballs: the one included here has a jelly-like covering about its stalk and a bright red puffball head; fall. Calostoma

                    f. Bird’s Nest Fungi (or Splash Cups): very small, almost cup-fungus like mushrooms on wood or on the ground, with tiny egg-like spore sacs within the deep cup-like “nests”; spores are flung out by water drops or other disturbance; summer and fall. Crucibulum, Cyathus

                    g. Stinkhorns: often colorful and either phallic-shaped or with multiple arms; with spores immersed in a greenish slime that attracts flies who disperse the spores; immature forms are within a membranous egg-like covering, sometimes resembling puffballs; mature phallic forms, when gluten is denuded by flies, can resemble a morel; summer and fall. Dictyophora, Mutinus, Phallus, Pseudocolus

          12 Crust Fungi: a group of fungi, usually white or brown, smooth to felt-like or bumpy, adhering to wood like a band-aid, and difficult to remove without a knife. Aleurodiscus, Corticium, Gloeocystidiellum, Hymenochaete, Merulius, Peniophora, Phanerochaete, Phlebia, Phlebiopsis, Punctularia et al.


THE GILLED MUSHROOM GROUPS and their look-alikes

Basidiomycete Fungi (gilled)

These can be divided into 8 groups based on their most typical appearance in the field. There are other ways to divide up the gilled mushrooms, but this is both convenient and serviceable, and requires little more for the determination of groups than patient observation in the field.

The following 8 groups are the traditional groups in which all the hundreds of genera and thousands of species of gilled mushrooms can be sorted. These names below refer to white-spored groups. Pink to salmon, brown, purple-brown, and black-spored mushroom groups have a striking similarity to one or another of these white-spored forms. Some of these as well as some white-spored groups sort into several of these “forms”.

1 Amanitoid:  Amanita

Cap and stem fleshy.

Gills free (from stem) or nearly so.

Universal veil present, leaving either a cup of tissue about the stem base or patch like or wart like remnants on the cap or stem base. Partial veil present or, in two groups of Amanita, absent, leaving a membranous annulus (ring of tissue) on the stem.

Look alikes include: Volvariella bombycina.

2 Lepiotoid:  Chlorophyllum, Lepiota

Cap and stem fleshy.

Gills free from stem, and usually conspicuously so.

Partial veil present, leaving a membranous ring of tissue on stem. [The salmon-spored Pluteus is similar but lacks a partial veil.]

Look alikes include Agaricus and, also, the pink to salmon-spored Pluteus (without a partial veil).

3 Armillarioid:  Armillaria, Squamanita

Cap and stem fleshy.

Gills attached to stem, sometimes somewhat decurrent.

Partial veil present, leaving a membranous ring of tissue on stem.

Look alikes include Agrocybe, Galerina, Gomphidius, Gymnopilus, Pholiota, Rozites, Stropharia

4 Tricholomatoid: Melanoleuca, Tricholoma

Cap fleshy, often thick; stem fleshy, often thick.

Gills attached to stem, sometimes notched at stem.

Veils absent.

Look alikes include the blewit, Lepista, the corts, Cortinarius, and Entoloma, Hebeloma, Russula, Tricholomopsis

5 Clitocyboid: Clitocybe,  Laccaria

Cap fleshy and small to large; stem fleshy, often thick.

Gills attached to and somewhat decurrent (descending) stem.

Veils absent.

Look-alikes include Armillaria tabescens, Clitopilus, Hygrophorus (white to gray), Lactarius, Omphalotus, Paxillus

6 Pleurotoid: Cheimophyllum, Hypsizygus, Pleurotus, Plicaturopsis, Schizophyllum

Cap fleshy to tough; stem either absent, eccentric, or lateral.

Gills decurrent if short stem or stub-like stem present.

Veils absent.

Look-alikes include Crepidotus, Gloeophyllum, Lentinellus, Lentinus, Lenzites, Panellus, Panus, Paxillus, Phyllotopsis

7 Collybioid / Marasmioid:  Collybia,  Marasmius, Oudemansiella=Xerula, Tricholomopsis

Cap fleshy, typically small; stem thin and either cartilaginous, wiry or bendable.

Gills attached to nearly free.

Veils absent.

Look-alikes include Agrocybe pediades, Hypholoma, Leptonia (Entoloma), Psilocybe, Tubaria

8 Mycenoid / Omphalioid: Mycena, Omphalina, Xeromphalina

Cap fleshy, small; stem thin and either fleshy or tough

Gills attached to decurrent.

Veils absent.

Look-alikes include Bolbitius, Conocybe, Coprinus, Galerina, Hygrocybe (Hygrophorus) yellow, red, orange, green, Inocybe, Nolanea (Entoloma), Panaeolus, Psathyrella

last revised December 2006