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Identifying Wild Mushrooms

identifying wild mushrooms

By Filip Tkaczyk

Identifying wild mushrooms is exciting! There is nothing quite like the feeling of coming upon a strange and wonderful mushroom on a walk or wander. For many of us the next step is mushroom identification. To bring some fabulous fungi from the field and to the table can be a great pleasure, and gathering can complement a hike or walk through the woods.

Identifying Wild Mushrooms:
The Basics:

To start with, fungi are not animals or plants, they are their own group of organisms and actually have their own Kingdom altogether!

Furthermore, mushrooms are not even organisms in and of themselves, rather they are a reproductive part of an organism (in a way, like a fruit on an apple tree). There are some fungi such as molds, mildews and yeasts that do not form the fleshy mushrooms, but for our sake we will stick to the ones that do here in this article on identifying wild mushrooms. The main body of a mushroom-producing fungi is actually a fine network of thread-like lines called mycelium. These are usually invisible underground or inside rotting wood. You can learn more about mushroom reproduction and their complex life cycles by checking out some of the resources at the end of this article.

Where to find edible wild mushrooms:

To start with, edible wild mushrooms are found in many different kinds of locations, including:

  • Woodlands, forests
  • Pastures and meadows
  • Burned areas
  • Lawns and gardens, various other urban and suburban areas
  • Dung and manure piles
  • Snow banks
  • And yes, even in sandy deserts!

A majority of the most delicious edible wild mushrooms grow in association with specific types of trees. It can be of great benefit to learn to identify the trees that you find them growing with, as it can help you to locate more in the future and also help with your process for identifying wild mushrooms.

Here are a few tree-mushroom associations that can help in locating and identifying wild mushrooms:

  • Pine: King boletus (Boletus edulis), Hedgehog mushroom (Dentinum repandum), Masutake (Armillaria ponderosa)
  • Oak: Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), Blewits (Clitocybe nuda).
  • Western Hemlock: Admirable Boletus (Boletus mirabilis)
  • Aspen, Poplar and Willow: Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), Honey mushrooms (Armillariella mellea)


Wild edible mushrooms - like all mushrooms - are dependent on moisture, so it probably won't surprise you that they grow most abundantly during or shortly after times of significant rainfall.

In the Pacific Northwest, finding and identifying wild mushrooms can be done just about any time of the year. The best time tends to be during the late summer and throughout fall. Though some delicious, and sought after species like morels (Morchella sp.), are often found in springtime in their preferred habitats. Read about the preferences of your local edible mushroom species in a local field guide. It helps to know about the species you want to find before you start looking for them.

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So, is this edible?

This is no doubt a question that pops into the heads of many mushroom observers. Identifying wild mushrooms is a process that requires some close and careful observation, as well as a good wild mushroom identification field guide or other detailed resource.

Here are some rules to begin with:

  • Just because another animal can eat it does not mean you can!
  • Use more than one reference source in your identification process and see if they agree
  • Don't use other people's anecdotal sayings such as "If it has a brown cap and grows under a pine tree, it is okay" while you are identifying edible wild mushrooms
  • Take your time, check and re-check the features and details when practicing wild mushroom identification
  • Be careful and respectful, but don't be afraid
  • Practice good care-taking ethics: collect only a 1/4 to at most 1/2 of the mushrooms you find, as they feed other animals in the area and need a chance to reproduce themselves

The Nitty Gritty:

The details of wild mushroom identification even for only the common mushroom species are far too extensive and detailed to go into here, though there are many great resources for helping to identifying and collect edible wild mushrooms.

For more information visit our Edible Wild Mushrooms Article.

By the way, when you're out foraging for wild plants and mushrooms, it's important to know how to stay safe in the outdoors, especially if you were to get lost. Right now you can get a free copy of our mini survival guide here, where you'll discover six key strategies for outdoor emergencies, plus often-overlooked survival tips.

Recommended Books:

Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora
All That the Rain Promises by David Arora
100 Edible Mushrooms by Michael Kuo

Additional Resources:

Related Courses:

Wild Mushroom Identification Class

About the Author: Filip Tkaczyk is a periodic guest teacher at Alderleaf. He also wrote the field guide Tracks & Sign of Reptiles & Amphibians. Learn more about Filip Tkaczyk.

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