Poisonous Mushrooms: Mushroom Identification Tips With Pictures

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picture of a fly argaric, a common amanita mushroom species, often considered one of the poisonous mushrooms

Is this mushroom poisonous? Poisonous mushrooms often reach the top of the question list for many people when they see mushrooms pop up in the lawn or when they are out on a hike and a mushroom catches their eye.

In the mushroom world, that’s a good question. In fact, it’s a question people have asked for thousands of years, ever since the time when people from China to Europe and many places in between began incorporating them into their diets. Nonetheless, its important to keep the concept of poisonous mushrooms in context. After thousands of years of wild mushroom consumption, it’s difficult not to notice that mushroom consumption provides far more dietary benefits than they have promoted unsafe eating habits. In short, the threat posed by poisonous mushrooms can be exaggerated.

The easy answer boils down to common sense. People should only consume mushrooms species that they can identify with one hundred percent accuracy. Leave all other mushrooms on the ground, or on the tree.

What about mushroom enthusiasts who want to learn about poisonous mushrooms? In the Internet world, that question requires a more nuanced answer that starts with providing information about types of poisonous mushrooms with pictures. In the real world, the pictures and information would be supplemented by spore prints. And still, that information would be incomplete.

There are a few basic problems associated with identifying poisonous mushrooms. Consider the following four additional potential causes of mushroom poisoning:

  • Lack of knowledge leads people (children and pets) to pick and eat a raw mushroom.
  • Immigrants with a history of consuming species in a genera, and then assuming that species in the genera are edible in their new home.
  • Economic stress creating an environment where individuals are forced to forage for food, and they choose a poisonous mushroom.
  • Individuals with mushroom allergies who consumer otherwise edible mushrooms.

Common Poisonous Mushrooms

picture of a death cap mushroom, one of the most poisonous mushrooms, credit Flickr Onnola

This brief guide covers only a few common poisonous mushrooms. One deadly mushroom species and a couple of species that get confused with edible species. Generally, Amanita species get ranked as the most troublesome mushrooms in North America. The picture at the top of the page, for example, shows the very common and colorful Amanita species, the Fly Argaic.

When you hear names such as Destroying Angel or Death Cap (amanita phalloides), that’s a sure sign that the mushrooms are trouble. In fact, as recently as June 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported a story of fourteen people in Northern California who became extremely ill after consuming them. Fortunately there’s a fairly simple way to identify Amanita species in the wild. Mykoweb provides the most accurate identification.

Because of its toxicity, it should be one of the first mushrooms learned. Fortunately, Amanita phalloides is distinctive and with experience, easily identified. Important field characters are the smooth, yellowish-green to yellowish-brown cap, sometimes with a thin, appressed white universal veil patch, usually non-striate cap margin, free, cream-colored gills, normally solid, not hollow stipe, pendulous annulus, and thin, white, membranous, sac-like volva.

Chanterelle Mushrooms and False Chanterelles

picture of a Wooly Chanterelle Mushrooms, a false chanterelle
Compare the four pictures in the Chanterelle section. Up first is a species commonly called the Wooly Chanterelle (Turbinellus floccosus). It sort of has a superficial appearance with the edible chanterelle species but it is not related.

picture of some Jack  O' Lantern mushrooms: credit liz west

Next picture shows the Jack-O’-Lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens). A very common orange shaded mushroom that often grows in clusters around trees. Consuming it often causes stomach and intestinal problems. Knowing that fact would naturally lead one to ask, why would anyone eat it?

picture of a chanterelle mushrooms
That answer is fairly simple when you look at the next picture and see that it looks like a highly prized edible, a Chanterelle mushroom. Mushroom enthusiasts not completely up to date on all types of mushrooms might easily pick a bunch of what they think are edible mushrooms, go home, cook them up, and then learn the hard way that something went horribly wrong.

picture of a false chanterelle mushrooms
Picture three shows another false chanterelle. Notice the gilles under the cap and how they differ from the underside of the chanterelle. Novice mushroom hunters might also mistake it for an edible chanterelle. Typically chanterelles can be differentiated from Jack O Lanterns by placement and numbers. Chanterells pop up from the earth singularly, Jack O Lanterns pop up from the earth in bunches, often near trees. Neither of them have traditional gills under the cap as shown in the mushroom in picture three.

Morel Mushrooms and False Morels

picture of a false morel mushroom
A similar picture comparison works to differentiate another choice edible, the morel mushroom, from false morel mushrooms. A quick look at the picture shows a species in the Gyromitra genus. At first glance it shows a resemblance with the Morel. In fact it is called a false morel, as are all mushrooms in the genus.

picture of a morel mushroom
The second picture shows the read deal morel mushroom, a very choice edible mushroom.