How to Identify Mushroom Types in AZ

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Wild mushrooms come in several varieties in Arizona.
Wild mushrooms come in several varieties in Arizona. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

It may seem like an odd idea to look for mushrooms in a place like Arizona when mushrooms thrive in areas with plenty of trees and rainfall. However, several species of mushroom can be found throughout the state. Even in areas like the Sonoran Desert, different species of mushroom such as the hedgehog and the oyster mushroom can be found. It is best to study with an expert before hunting mushrooms on your own, since many varieties can be dangerous or even fatal.

Things You'll Need

  • Digital Camera
  • Visual key for mushrooms

Download and print a visual key for mushrooms (see resources). Study field guides for the area in which you wish to hunt and familiarize yourself with common varieties of mushrooms found in the area. Hunt in places like Mt. Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains of the Sonoran Desert since more abundant crops of mushrooms grow on the mountaintops.

Plan your trip for the summer months since the rains don't typically fall in Arizona until the beginning of June or July. Hike up high enough into the mountains so that you see more trees than cacti.

Take a clear photograph of the mushroom with your camera. Use a 6-inch ruler to provide a scale for the shot. Write down all the features of the mushroom, including color, size, smell and texture in a notebook.

Compare the photo and notes to your dichotomous key to see if there are any matches. Use a pocket knife to cut the stems of the mushrooms if you wish to take them with you.

Watch out for common Arizona mushrooms that have lookalikes, such as Amanitas, agaricus and morels. Test amanitas according to appearance. A thin "skirt" around the top of the stem or a bulb like "volva" at the base of the stem are usually an indicator that the mushroom is poisonous. Agaricus can be identified by an almond smell or yellowish bruising on the cap when touched. Avoid pure white mushrooms, as a general rule. False or poisonous morels are identified by a spongy, closed appearance on the cap rather than open spores.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you are an inexperienced hunter, always ask an expert to identify any mushrooms found on a mushroom hunt. Don't ever eat mushrooms directly from the wild. Wait until you are sure about the mushroom's identification.

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