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Mushroom Hunting FAQs

Should I cut mushrooms off at the bases when collecting them?

No, you shouldn't do that. The bases of the stipe, which remains in the soil when cutting it off, often contains important characteristics. If it is missing, the danger of a mistake is increased. In addition you would give the fungus a large open wound, by which pollutants can penetrate to the underground living fungus plant. The best way is to twist large mushrooms whole out of the soil, more tender kinds can be lifted with your fingers or a knife. It is very important that you close the hole in the ground where the mushroom stood, in order to avoid that the underground living fungus drains.


Can I find mushrooms at the same place next year?

Yes. If the conditions are favorable, the fungus living in the soil will create new fruits in the next autumn. Mycels (fungus networks) can live for a very long time and achieve enormous expansions, but only under ideal conditions they form their fruits. Therefore it can happen that you won't be able to find any mushrooms one year, but there can be lots of them a year later at the same place.


Do I endanger the fungi kingdom when collecting mushrooms?

Those who collects occasionally don't harm the fungi at all. You don't harm apple trees either when picking apples. However, you should consider that the fruitations have the job to care for the spreading and preservation of the species. Try to avoid picking all the mushrooms in a place of discovery.


Can I be poisoned by touching or handling a toxic mushroom?

No. Mushroom toxins are not absorbed through the skin, so you can handle them safely as long as you do not taste or eat them. Cleaning your hands before handling other foods will ensure that no mushroom particles that may have broken off are accidentally mixed with the food.


How can I learn to identify mushrooms?

The easiest way is to take a course in mushrooms identification from a professional mycologist, but this is not always practical. There also are amateur mushroom clubs in several areas of the United States with individuals that are highly skilled in mushroom identification. They go on collecting forays and give training in mushroom identification. If none of these are available, there are numerous books on mushroom identification that you can study. Check with the local library, a nearby university, or museum of natural history to see what they have available. Some larger universities employ mycologists who can assist you with terminology and techniques in mushroom identification. To seriously identify mushrooms you will need access to a microscope.


What field guide do you recommend?

David Arora: Mushrooms Demystified (Ten Speed Press, 1986). Arora is an excellent writer, and quite funny. He makes many potentially dry topics amusing and interesting. He is also a formidable authority on mushrooms--especially those in California. The second printing (1986) expands text to account for more mushrooms from eastern North America. One of the best features of Mushrooms Demystified is that it de-emphasizes photos, using keys and thorough descriptions instead.
You can get this book HERE

Gary Lincoff: The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms (Knopf, 1992). This is probably the most popular field guide on the market--and for good reason; Lincoff (who is a prominent mushroom authority) includes an amazing number of mushrooms, and describes them succinctly. He highlights what he sees as crucial distinguishing features, and includes brief comments on look-alikes for many species. The major drawback of the book is its lack of keys. I highly recommend this book, but caution you to use it along with another source.
You can get this book HERE

Gary Lincoff, editor (Giovanni Pacioni, author): Simon & Schuster's Guide to Mushrooms (Simon & Schuster, 1981). Although this field guide can be found in many stores, I do not recommend it for North American readers. It is a field guide to European mushrooms, edited and amended by Gary Lincoff. Buy Lincoff's other fine book (above), instead. While the Simon & Schuster's guide does include a few brief keys, its descriptions of mushrooms are very short--and the photos aren't even of North American mushrooms!
You can get this book HERE.

Kent and Vera McKnight: Mushrooms (Peterson Field Guides, Houghton Mifflin, 1987). This field guide includes fairly thorough descriptions of mushrooms, and illustrates them well with reproductions of paintings and drawings. I actually believe such illustrations to be somewhat more reliable than photos when they are done by someone who pays attention to crucial details, like Vera McKnight. But the same limitations apply to paintings as to photos, and comparing a mushroom to illustrations is a poor way to identify it. The book lacks keys.
You can get this book HERE.

Alexander H. Smith: The Mushroom Hunter's Field Guide (University of Michigan Press, 1958). Smith was one of the giants in North American mycology, and his many technical works (he was an incredibly prolific author!) are invaluable to the science. Not all of his books were beyond the scope of amateur mushrooming, however; see the list of out-of-print books, below, for some recommendations. But The Mushroom Hunter's Field Guide, though it is an important publication from a historical perspective, is not a field guide I recommend to amateurs wanting to identify mushrooms--not because it is too technical (it's not), but because it simply doesn't include enough mushrooms (though it does use some limited keys). Smith is, very unfortunately for the world of mycology, no longer living; the most recent publication (1996) of The Mushroom Hunter's Field Guide, evidently, has more color photos and includes the substantial contribution of his daughter, Nancy Smith Weber, also a prominent mycologist (and author of the best book on the market about morels and false morels; see the References page for a citation). I have not seen the 1996 edition, so my comments may no longer apply.
You can get this book HERE.

Roger Phillips: Mushrooms of North America (Little, Brown, and Company, 1991). This book, unfortunately, seems to go in and out of print. Amazingly, it includes 1,000 mushrooms. Phillips's photographs are stunning; rather than taking photos of mushrooms in their natural settings (so that one can't, for example, see the underside of the cap), Phillips takes his photos in controlled, indoor light, and goes a long way towards eliminating some of the drawbacks to using photos for mushroom identification (see above) by placing several specimens in his photos, carefully illustrating their features, even slicing them in half to show what they look like inside. The beautiful photos are reminiscent of early naturalist paintings and drawings, or even of Renaissance scientific illustrations. Unfortunately, the descriptions are rather terse, and there are no keys.
You can get this book HERE.


How can I make a spore print?

This is just a short outline: Use clean material you want to print on (fresh typing paper, index cards, wax paper, tin foil, glass slides....), cut a mature cap off the stem as near to the gills as possible with a clean scalpel or knife and place the cap on the printing material gills down. Cover the cap with a jar or place the printing material in a plastic container (Tupperware...) with lid on. Let sit for 12-24 hours at room temperature. Then pick up the cap and let the print dry for around 24 hours. Fold the print and tape the edges or leave it as is and put into a plastic zip baggie. Label and store in a dark, cold and dry place.


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