How to Identify Toadstools

Morel mushrooms have a characteristic appearance.
Morel mushrooms have a characteristic appearance. (Image: Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

For those who enjoy a challenge, mushroom identification provides many happy hours. Mushrooms and toadstools often look alike with only small differences. Some people collect and identify toadstools as a hobby, but there are other reasons as well. Some folks collect and eat wild mushrooms, which leads to the next reason. Doctors sometimes need a specimen identified in a mushroom poisoning case. Homeowners may want to get rid of mushrooms in the yard, and identification helps narrow down the best method for removal. Careful note taking and observation help you identify many mushrooms and toadstools.

Things You'll Need

  • Paper bag
  • Knife
  • Field guide to mushrooms that includes pictures.
  • Small ruler
  • Thick paper
  • Plastic bag

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Collect Samples

Collect the entire toadstool including underground parts using the knife. Gently brush the soil off the specimen. Put it into the paper bag. Note the location where the specimen was collected, and if it was growing in clusters or alone.

Determine if the mushroom has gills. Look on the underside of the cap. Gills resemble tiny, fan blade structures. Note the cap’s color and size. Examine the stem and determine length with the small ruler.

If the toadstool has gills, it belongs in one of the following categories. Gill types could be Amanitas, Chanterelles, Clitocybes or funnel caps, Corinarius or web caps, inky caps, Lactarius, Lepiotas, Naematolomas or Russulas.

Toadstools without gills would be in one of the following groups: Boletes, Morels, Polypores, Puffballs or Stinkhorns.

Make a spore print. Cut off the cap with a knife. Place the cap with the underside on a sheet of thick paper. Put paper with cap on it in a plastic bag to keep moist. Leave it for six to eight hours. When the cap is removed from the paper, spores will have left a pattern.

Use field guide pictures to narrow your specimen down to a few groups within the categories of gilled or non gilled. Use the information you gathered including location, color, size and spore print to identify the particular species that you have.

Tips & Warnings

  • Puffballs are easy to identify. They are large, ball-shaped mushrooms and are easily spotted from a distance.
  • Don't use plastic bags to collect specimens. Toadstools quickly deteriorate inside plastic bags.
  • Become familiar with the Amanita mushrooms. This group contains most of the poison mushrooms.
  • Do not eat any wild mushrooms. Only experts can tell if a mushroom is poisonous.
  • Wash your hands after handling wild mushrooms, especially a variety you suspect is poisonous.

References

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