Mushroom Field Guide for Ontario

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Ontario is home to dozens of mushroom species, many of them edible. However, when picking mushrooms, it's essential to know what you've found. This mushroom field guide for Ontario can help you identify both edible and dangerous fungi. Some poisonous mushrooms in Ontario resemble their edible counterparts, according to the Ontario Woodlot Association, so it's important to know some basic characteristics before picking them.

Black Morel mushrooms are found in Ontario.
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Ontario has no single mushroom season. Species appear at different times throughout the year, though some periods are more abundant. Ontario morels tend to arrive in May, according to the University of Guelph. Some bracket fungi fruit all year. Mushrooms thrive in cool, humid conditions. Most species fruit from late spring until fall. After the main leaf falls in October, many mold and forest fungus species thrive.

Fall trees in Ontario.
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Ontario mushrooms grow in a variety of locations, but are always found growing on organic substances. Fungi are often found in Ontario's shaded forests, because these areas stay cool and damp even in mid-summer. Living conifer trees are a popular habitat, as are dead logs, according to the Ontario Wildflower website. Some species grow on lawns, with plenty of decaying organic matter beneath the surface layer, according to Guelph University.

Shaded forest.
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The classic mushroom shape includes several elements. The cap is the wide bulbous head of the mushroom. Note color, shape, texture and size when identifying a species. Shapes range from flat-topped to cylindrical. Color can vary according to the weather, the age of the mushrooms and the type of substance they're growing on, according to the Virtual Museum of Canada. Determine spore color by smearing a broken mushroom cap against white paper. Different species have different types of stalks. Some species grow direct on the tree or ground with no supporting stalk at all.

Three wild mushrooms.
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Unfortunately, there is no one characteristic that identifies a poisonous mushroom. However, two species to look out for in Ontario are the destroying angel and the fly agaric. Destroying angel is one of the most toxic mushrooms in North America, according to the Ojibway Nature Centre. It grows close to tree roots, has a long, slender stalk and is almost entirely white. Fly agaric is found in Ontario's deciduous and coniferous woods. It often has a reddish central area that turns yellow toward the cap edges. The cap looks warty, according to "Andy's Northern Ontario Alien Wildflowers."

Poisonous mushrooms.
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Dozens of Ontario mushrooms are great in the cooking pot. Black and yellow morel are two sought-after varieties. Both have a similar shape, with a honeycombed cap on a white stalk. However, yellow morels tend to be slightly smaller than the black variety. Morels grow on forest floors, usually near conifers or dying elm trees, according to the Ontario Woodlot Association. The chicken of the woods, sometimes called sulphur fungus, is found on live trees or decaying hardwood logs. It's yellow and orange in color with thick, meaty flesh. Oyster mushrooms are smaller and more delicate. They are light cream colored and often grow in layers on aspen trees.

Close up of mushroom collecting in the wild.
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