Fungi identification ! How to ask for help

It’s that time of year again , across the country foragers have been once again encapsulated by the hunt !
No matter how much I love foraging for plants there is no comparison to the look of sheer child like excitement that I’ve seen full grown adults experience when finding a prize fungi .
But every year holds the same down side to fungi foraging every competent forager who has a good level of mycological knowledge will be bombarded with requests of help from the thousands of keen and enthusiastic beginners and some like me enjoy the attention but we all have the same nagging fears and hesitations ,

No Self conscious forager will give you an answer of edibility from a picture sent from the internet it’s just asking for trouble and it has proved the reason that some foragers now completely refuse to help with identifications at all , it’s something I’ve pondered over to some length and it has led to this post .
Anyone who has the slightest of a spark of interest in foraging in my eyes is very welcomed by myself to ask as many questions as they feel comfortable asking this goes for any aspect of foraging I am no expert in any field and will only share knowledge I have gained from experience but will always share it willingly as the one thing I find makes me feel quite unhappy about is seeing people asking there peers for help only to be made to feel bad for asking and often reprimanded for asking which only ends in their enthusiasm being dampened .
I understand the frustration of being asked countless questions regarding a single picture of a blurry blob on an out of focus picture that could quite happily be a ping pong ball as a mushroom so I’m going to offer some advice on what to ask and what to offer in way of information to aid in getting an identification and some starting points on becoming a more knowledgable mushroom enthusiast .

I always try and start simple fungi like plants are categorised into family’s that in whole have defining attributes and learning these can go along way to gaining singular identifications and will improve your basic knowledge immensely , you can also start with family’s that hold the most commonly found fungi , like the pore bearing Boletes that don’t have gills or the brittle gills of the Russulas This will narrow the list of possibles greatly .

Next is habitat this is often key in making any identification as most fungi have symbiotic relationships with the vascular roots of a plant or tree learning about these not only aids with identification but will improve your chance of placing yourself in the right spot when looking for specific finds . This also means you will need to be aware of basic tree identification adding yet another book to your library .
Another helpful piece of information is soil type and in this age of internet wizardry it’s relatively simple to find out I’ve posted a link below to a great web resource to help .

Next will be defining qualities , many fungi have features that are essential in identifying them this can be a gelatinous texture , scales , fibrous stem , bulbous stipe , a vail , a volva (sac ) basically anything physical that stands out and some basic shape description is good such as the shape of the cap .

Next is colour , photos can be very deceiving and dependant on the recipients viewer can effect the ability to help ,
Basic colour is important but also and discolouration upon touch is equally important many mushrooms oxidase upon contact , cutting a cross section of your mushroom is a must and owning a dedicated mushrooming knife reduces contamination .

Next is the smell , most people describe mushrooms as smelling of wet mud but if given a little attention some have a distinct smell that can identify it correctly ,
If like me you have a bad sense of smell a good practice is to add some zip bags to your kit .
Place a sample into the bag and leave for 10-15 minutes then take a deep sniff in through your nose and out through your mouth you will find it helps define any odour .

The next step in gathering information is a spore print .
This isn’t some black magic art or even massively technical , it’s real easy .
Take the mushroom that you want to take a print from cut off the stem 5 mm or so from the cap and place gill or pores down onto paper ( white is fine but 50/50 black to white give a better view ) then leave for 2-3 hour to allow the spores to drop .
I carry a loupe with me as some spores are visible without a print a good example is the miller the pink spores are easily seen .

The picture itself is very important one pic of the mushroom generally isn’t enough , I recommend three one in situe another clearly showing the gill / pore layout including the entire stipe always as much as possible including any sac and the third of a cut cross section showing any discolouration / staining giving a good description of the colours with real life comparisons when possible ( chestnut brown ) this helps with colour distortion .

One last bit of info that may seem basic is to state the time when found most fungi have seasons and most will assume the pic and info provided are recent please state if otherwise .

Giving some of the information above will greatly improve your chances of getting a positive result from anyone able to help .
I’m a great believer in asking questions we all have some knowledge to offer and asking questions is the best way to learn and there is no such thing as a stupid question something is only easy if you already know it .
Just some of us forget we had to learn it in the first place and repetitive use of knowledge is a good way to become competent . Just remember Don’t ask if your find is edible as if your needing to ask you shouldn’t be considering eating it anyway and rule no1 of foraging is ….. Drum role …….if your not 100% sure don’t eat it . Another point worth mentioning is that pictures on the internet are no place to make an identification books and first hand experience are the only way to go .

Just a thinker for the folks in the other side if the coin ,
By refusing help are you not placing the asker in a worse position than the possibility of wrong information rather than a refusal maybe some pointers on how to rule out the nasty’s or indeed identifying the wanted species reiterating the DO NOT EAT isn’t that hard to do but explaining why is possibly just as important .

A link to my post on the magic that is mushrooms


A link to my soil an site that lists soil type all over the uk

foraginguk . a great free foraging forum

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