Identifying mushrooms in the field is difficult. Keying them through a variety of characteristics is a common field method. One of the problems with keying and identifying mushrooms is that not all mushrooms have been discovered yet. Do not eat mushrooms found in the wild unless an expert has identified them as one that is an edible culinary variety. Take a camera, a collection bag, a journal, a pen, a sharp knife and a small ruler or tape measure in the field with you.
Identify Through Parts
The physical traits of the mushroom will aid in the identification process. Note the size, width and appearance of the top of the mushroom, known as the cap. If there are other mushroom similar in appearance nearby, look to see whether the caps on them are similar in size and appearance. Is the cap flat, concave or convex? Look at the cap to see whether it is sticky, looks wrinkled, or has scales or warts on it.
The underside of the cap is the gill. Note the appearance and color of the gill. Does it have an odor other than of a mushroom? Cut across the gill and note whether there is any discharge or change in gill color. Make note of the size, length and color of the stem. Look to see where the stem attaches to the cap. Note the presence or absence of a ring, located on the stem. At the bottom of the stem, where the ground and the stem meet, look for the presence of a cup that encircles the stem. You will mostly likely need to move the leaves away from the mushroom to locate the cup. In the most general terms, the appearance of both a cup and a ring are indicative of a poisonous group of mushrooms.
Identify Through Spore
The mushroom spore is the equivalent of a seed. It is carried by the wind and dropped, where it will reproduce. The spore is the most unique feature in a mushroom and can aid in the identification process. Identifying the spore takes time and should not be done in the field. Remove the mushroom cap and put it on a piece of glass or paper. The paper should have both black and white areas so the spore can be seen no matter what color it is. After about three hours, there will be a spore print on the paper or glass.
Identify Through Habitat
Habitat will also help you identify what type of mushroom you have. Where the mushroom grows is as important as what it looks like. Some mushrooms like bog conditions; others enjoy a coniferous forest. There are mushrooms that thrive in open areas, such as meadows. Note whether the mushroom was growing alone or in a cluster. Note in what season you obtained the mushroom and the range of its habitat.
Cheryl Swayne is a writer and farrier based in Kansas. Her articles have appeared in publications including "Kansas Wildlife and Parks Magazine." She worked in national and state parks for 20 years. Swayne authored the nonfiction book "Wildflowers and Forbs of Sandhills State Park." She holds a Master of Science in business management from Baker University.