Here I (Dr. Gordon Walker) do my best to sum up the answers to many of the questions I get asked on a regular basis via social media. Hopefully this will be resource for you, but please give me feedback on the the links and information presented here.
Welcome to Fascinated By Fungi FAQs:
Q: I am interested in fungi, how do I learn more?
A: There are tons of resources on mushrooms, the Internet is often the easiest way to access information and pictures. However, be wary of your search results as the internet is also full of misinformation. Searching by the scientific (Latin) name will usually yield better information than just searching common names along (although this is a good starting point to figure out the scientific name). It is important to find well curated resources when searching online; further down I post links to some of my favorite sites.
Q: What book(s) should I buy?
A: I mostly use online resources, many books have out dated names (DNA sequencing has led to a taxonomic revolution), terms, and information concerning the mushrooms themselves. Good books definitely do exist, but look for ones that have been published relatively recently (~5-10 years) and are specific in some way to your geographic area.
My favorite ID book for California/PNW is "Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast" by Noah Siegel and Christian Schwartz
Another favorite is "Radical Mycology" by Peter McCoy. It is the best compendium of mushroom mycology knowledge I have read. Incredible resource and philosophy.
Q: Where do you find mushrooms?
A: Everywhere, once you start looking! Fungi are ubiquitous, although mushrooms (the fruiting bodies of the ever present but hidden mycelium) can be elusive. Generally you need moisture - going for a hike 1-3 days after a good heavy rain will often lead to fungal finds. Mushrooms degrade organic matter, forests are ideal, look up local tree species to understand where to find specific types of mushrooms.
If all else fails, just goto your local park after some rain and look at dead wood - something will be growing I promise you (maybe even slime molds!).
You can also use iNaturalist to help you scope out new nature spots, check to see where other people are observing the species you want to find.
Q: Can I eat this?
A: This question makes me very nervous when people ask me this. I am not an expert - just an enthusiast. I can help people to the best of my abilities, but I never recommend people eat something they can't absolutely identify. I usually ask people to rephrase the question to "What is this?" because once you understand something, then you can concern yourself with it's edibility.
NEVER EAT ANYTHING YOU CAN'T 100% IDENTIFY
Q: Do you eat wild mushrooms?
A: Yes I do and I love them! That being said, I have accumulated enough experience and knowledge to confidently recognize and identify wild mushrooms for consumption. I do my best to forage responsibly and act as a steward of nature, you should too.
Q: How can I determine edible from toxic?
A: When you're first getting started its a good idea to pick something and really examine it to understand all the features. You can't learn all of the mushrooms out there, but you can learn at least one on every hike. Learn to "key" out mushrooms, recognizing certain features (see morphological chart below). Other common ID tools are spore prints (usually unnecessary but still cool), potassium hydroxide (KOH), iron salts, UV, and microscopy to examine spores and tissue.
Q: I have been told it is dangerous to touch mushrooms, is that true?
A. Despite what your Mom or well intentioned relatives may have told you as a child - mushrooms are not inherently dangerous to touch (even the poisonous ones)! Generally the toxic compounds in mushrooms (like deadly Amatoxins) cannot diffuse freely across your skin, making it safe to touch and handle almost all mushrooms.
There is one example of a mushrooms found in Australia that can seriously harm you if touched, but what in Australia isn't trying to kill you?
Q: I am worried that my pet (or myself) may have consumed a toxic mushroom, what can I do?
A: If this is an emergency, call the Poison Control Center.
Also consider joining this Facebook group: Poisons Help; Emergency Identification For Mushrooms & Plants
For non-emergency situations (like wondering if the mushroom on your lawn could hurt your dog) try joining other local mushroom groups or forums on Facebook and online.
Q: Where can I find/how do I recognize psychedelic mushrooms?
A: Generally I do not talk about Psilocybe species (pronounced Si-law-so-be) since they are not the focus on my account. I recognize the enormous potential benefits of entheogenic substances as a legitimate form of therapy. I sincerely hope that in the near future, there is a move towards legalization on a national level.
See more from Decriminalize California an organization in support of a path to legalization.
I cannot tell you more about finding or identifying Psilocybe species than you can find with a quick google search. I do recommend caution when searching for Psilocybe species as they can be confused with deadly toxic mushrooms like Galerina and Inocybe species.You should never consume something you are not 100% sure of (having gotten multiple confirmations from different sources). The type of Psilocybe species you can find will depend on your local habitat, read up on what species occur where.
For cultivation, I believe it is legal to order spores to most states (except CA, GA, and ID). There are lots of good resources online for cultivation, check out the Shroomery.org community and channels like Willie Myco.
Q: How do I get more involved in the mushroom community?
A: Join a local mycology club, they are present in some form or another almost everywhere (mycophiles unite!). Social media has also become an incredible tool for fostering community as well as sharing photos and information.
Best Resources (in my opinion) for Beginner Mushroom Hunters:
Go start an iNaturalist account: https://www.inaturalist.org/
iNat is a little bit like real-life Pokemon Go. You can upload photos of any living organism and often get a decent ID suggestion for the life form in question. For me it was the first app I started using regularly to identify, track, and scout for fungi. The mobile app leave a lot to be desired, but the desktop version of the website is quite advanced. Starting an account it easy, you'll be amazed how many things you can identify.
As a budding naturalist, you will be participating in "Citizen Science", giving you a chance to help scientists track the "phenology" (appearance and timing of natural events) of life in your area. I highly encourage everyone to try this app as it is a gateway to learning more about the natural world in your pocket.
Considering Starting a Mushroom Observer Account: https://mushroomobserver.org/
Mushroom Observer is more advanced than iNaturalist, usually it helps to know what a mushroom is already if you want to make a complete post. It is an incredible community, but too much work for me.
Read up on posts by Michael Kuo on MushroomExpert.com
Michael Kuo has probably the best curated private website of fungi and mushroom knowledge. We all bow down to Michael.
When I started getting obsessed with mushrooms in 2017 I was living in Hawkes Bay NZ. This New Zealand specific website really helped pin point local species and understand the ecology of the island.
I always recommend finding local resources as people around you will be finding similar fungi and can help with identification.
Other Great Mushroom Education Personalities:
Consider subscribing to great publications like Fungi Magazine
Mushroom Morphological Traits
Basidiomycetes vs Ascomycetes
Relatedness of Basidiomycetes
"Megaphylogeny resolves global patterns of mushroom evolution" Varga, et. al., NatureResearch, 2019
"Phylogenetic relationships and diversification across 5,284 mushroom-forming fungi One of the 245 analysed maximum-likelihood trees was randomly chosen and visualized. Trees were inferred from nrLSU, rpb2, ef1-a sequences with a phylogenomic backbone constraint of deep nodes. Branches are coloured by net diversification (speciation minus extinction) rate inferred in Bayesian Analysis of Macroevolutionary Mixtures (BAMM). Warmer colours denote a higher rate of diversification. Significant shifts in diversification rate are shown by triangles at nodes. Only shifts present on >50% of ten trees, with a Bayesian posterior probability >0.5 and a posterior odds ratio >5 are shown. See Supplementary Data 6 for detailed discussion of shifts. Reconstructed probabilities of ancestral plant hosts for order-level clades are shown as pie charts partitioned by the inferred ancestral probability for gymnosperm (green) and angiosperm host (black). Pie charts are given for the most recent common ancestors of each order plus backbone nodes within the Agaricales—for small orders see Supplementary Data 3. Inner and outer bars around the tree denote extant substrate preference (black, angiosperm; green, gymnosperm; grey, generalist) and the placement of species used for inferring the 650-gene phylogenomic backbone phylogeny. Geological time scale is indicated with grey/white concentric rings."