All of the edible mushrooms shown here are distinctive in some obvious way. Once you learn
their distinguishing features, you won't confuse them with any dangerously poisonous species.
Along with each illustration is a brief description of the mushroom, including where and when it can be found. Remember that where and when a mushroom grows can be very important in identification. If there are reasons for caution, they are noted. Also included are some cooking hints for each type of mushroom.
PUFFBALLS (LYCOPERDON spp. and CALVATIA spp.)
Description: Depending on their size, puffballshave been mistaken at a distance for everythingfrom golf balls to sheep. These round or pear-shaped mushrooms are almost always whitish, tan or gray and may or may not havea stalk-like base. The interior of a puffball is solid white at first, gradually turning yellow,then brown as the mushroom ages. Finally, theinterior changes to a mass of dark, powdery spores, Size: 1" to 12" in diameter, sometimes larger.
When and Where: Late summer and fall; in lawns,open woods, pastures, barren areas. On soil or decaying wood.
Cautions: Each puffball should be sliced from topto bottom and the interior examined. It should be completely white and featureless inside, like a slice of white bread. There should be no trace of yellow or brown (which will spoil the flavor) and especially no sign of a developing mushroom with a stalk, gills and cap (see Poisonous Mushrooms). Amanitas, when young, can resemble small puffballs, but cutting them open will quickly resolve the question.
Cooking Hints: Remove outer skin if it is tough, then slice, dip in batter and fry.
SHAGGY MANE (Coprinus comatus)
Description: The shaggy mane or lawyer's wig is so large and distinctive that with a little practice you can identify it from a moving car. The cap of a fresh specimen is a long, white cylinder with shaggy, upturned, brownish scales. The gills are whitish, and the entire mushroom is fragile and crumbles easily. Most important, as the
shaggy mane matures, the cap and gills graduallydissolve into a black, inky fluid, leaving only the standing stalk. Size 4" to 6" tall, sometimes larger.
When and Where: Spring, summer and fall, growing in grass, soil or wood chips. Often seen scattered in lawns and pastures.
Cautions: Shaggy manes are best when picked before the caps begin to turn black. However, until you become familiar with these mushrooms, check for the developing ink to be sure of your identification. (note: The shaggy mane is the largest of a group of edible mushrooms called inky caps.
Cooking Hints: Saute butter and season with nutmeg or garlic. Good in scrambled eggs or chicken dishes. Shaggy manes are delicate and should be picked young and eaten the same day.
CORAL FUNGI (Clavariaceae)
Description: These fungi appear as clumps of branching stems which point upward. They do look much like coral. Most are tan, whitish or
yellowish; a few are pinkish or purple. Also called club fungi, antler mushrooms or doghair mushrooms. Size: clusters may be up to 8" high.
When and Where: Summer and fall; in wooded areas,growing on the ground or on decaying logs.
Cautions: A few coral fungi have a laxative effect,and some people seem to be particularly sensitive. Avoid coral fungi that taste bitter, bruise brown when handled or have gelatinous bases. These are most likely to case trouble. No serious poisonings from coral fungi have been reported.
Cooking Hints: Tips and upper branches are most tender. Saute and add to vegetables or white sauce.
Description: Sponge, pinecone andhoneycomb mushroom-the nicknames of the morel-are all appropriate. Morels are easy to recognize and delicious to eat, making them the most popular wild mushroom in Missouri.
The surface of a morel is covered with definite pits and ridges, and the bottom edge of the cap is attached directly to the stem. Size: 2" to 12" tall.
There are three common species of morels:
The common morel (Morchella esculenta):
When young, this species has white ridges and dark brown pits and is known as the "white morel." As it ages, both the ridges and the pits turn yellowish brown, and it becomes a "yellow morel." If conditions are right the "yellow morel" can grow into a "giant morel," which may be up to a foot tall.
The black morel or smoky morel (Morchella elata): The ridges are gray or tan when young, but darken with age until nearly black. The pits are brown and elongated. These morels are best when picked young; discard any that are shrunken or have completely black heads.
The half-free morel (Morchella semilibera): This is the exception to the rule that morels have the bottom of the cap attached directly to the stem. The cap of the half-free morel is attached at about the middle. These morels have small caps and long bulbous stems.
When and Where: From spring to early summer. Morels are found on the ground in a variety of habitats, including moist woodlands and in river bottoms.
Cautions: Morels are quite distinctive, but there is a small chance they could be confused with false morels. Half-free morels may be confused with a mushroom called the wrinkled thimble cap (Verpa bohemica). Fortunately, this mushroom is also edible in moderation. The cap of the wrinkled thimble cap is free from the stem except at the top
Cooking Hints: Cut morels in half to check for insects. Wash carefully. Morels can be breaded and fried, stewed, baked, creamed or stuffed with dressing. Their delicate flavor is brought out best by sauteing them in butter for about five minutes on each side.
Bearded Tooth - (Hericium erinaceus)
Description: With its clumps of hanging white "fur," this tooth fungus looks much like a polar
bear's paw. It is pure white when fresh and young, but yellows with age. The bearded tooth may grow quite large, as much as a foot across. Its size and whiteness make it easy to spot against the dark logs on which it grows.
Other names include bear's head, satyr's beard andhedgehog mushroom. Size 4" to 12" across.
When and Where: Summer and fall; always on trees, logs or stumps.
Cautions: The bearded tooth is distinctive and has no poisonous look-alikes. There are several closely related species which are more open and branched,but all are good edibles. Only young, white specimens should be eaten; older, yellowed ones are sour.
Cooking Hints: Slice, parboil until tender (taste a piece to test), drain and serve with cheese sauce.
Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Description: Those hardy souls who take long winter walks are sometimes treated to the sight of a snow-capped mass of fresh oyster mushrooms growing on a tree or log.
This large white, tan or ivory-colored mushroom isnamed for its oyster shell-like shape. It has white gills running down a very short, off-center stem. Spores are white to lilac, and the flesh is very soft. Oyster mushrooms usually are found in largeclusters of overlapping caps and always on wood.
Size: 2" to 8" wide.
When and Where: Spring, summer, fall and during warm spells in winter. On trees and fallen logs.
Cautions: This mushroom has a number of look-alikes, (including Crepidotus and Lentinus spp.), but none are dangerous. they may, however, be woody or unpleasant-tasting. Check by tasting a small piece and by making a spore print. Watch out
for the small black beetles which sometimes infest this mushroom.
Cooking Hints: Soak in salted water to remove bugs. Dip in beaten egg, roll in cracker crumbs and fry.
Description: Chanterelles are a great favorite of European mushroom hunters and are becoming more popular in the United States. These mushrooms are funnel-or trumpet-shaped and have wavy cap edges. Most are bright orange or yellow, although one, the black trumpet, is brownish-black. Fresh chanterelles have a pleasant, fruity fragrance.
To make sure you have a chanterelle, check the underside of the cap. Some species of chanterelle
are nearly smooth underneath, while others have a network of wrinkles or gill-like ridges running down the stem. The ridges have many forks and crossveins and are always blunt-edged. (True gills are sharp-edged and knifelike). Size 1/2" to 6" wide, 1" to 6" tall.
When and Where: Summer and fall; on the ground in hardwood forests. Usually found in scattered groups.
Cautions: When you can recognize those blunt-edged, crisscrossing ridges, you won't confuse
chanterelles with anything else. However, take extra care at first that you do not have the
poisonous jack-o-'lantern. Jack-o'-lanterns have knifelike gills and grow in the tight clusters on wood or buried wood, rather than on the ground.
Cooking Hints: Chanterelles are tough and need long, slow cooking, but when properly prepared their flavor is excellent. Saute slowly in butter until tender, season with salt, pepper and parsley, and serve on crackers.
Description: If you can picture a hamburger bun ona thick stalk, you will have a good idea of what most boletes look like. These sturdy, fleshy mushrooms can be mistaken at first glance for
gilled mushrooms, but if you turn over a cap you will find a spongy layer of pores on the underside rather than bladelikegills. The pore layer can easily be pulled away from the cap.
Bolete caps are usually brownish or reddish-brown, while the pores may be whitish, yellow, orange, red, olive or brownish. Size: Up to 10" tall; caps 1" to 10" wide. There are more than 200 species of boletes in North America. The King Bolete (Boletus edulis) is probably the best edible.
When and Where: Summer and fall; on the ground near or under trees. Frequently found under pines.
Cautions: Boletes are considered a good, safe edible group for beginning mushroom collectors.
However, you should observe these cautions:
1. A few boletes are poisonous. To avoid these, don't eat any boletes that have orange or red
2. Some boletes, while not poisonous, are very distasteful. Check this by tasting a pinch of the
raw mushroom cap. If it is bitter or otherwise unpleasant, throw it out.
3. To make them more digestible, boletes should be cooked before eating. If the cap is slimy, peel off the slime layer; it sometimes causes diarrhea.
4. Bugs seem to like boletes as much as people do, so check your specimens carefully. Boletes also tend to decay quickly. Be sure to collect and eat only fresh specimens.
Cooking Hints: Remove tough stems, and peel off the pore layer in all but the youngest specimens. Saute in butter and add to any cheese dish. Dried boletes also are good in soups.
Sulfur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus)
Description: These mushrooms light up the forest with their brilliant orange-red caps and pale
sulfur-yellow pore surfaces. Some specimens fade to a peach or salmon color.
The sulfur shelf always grows on wood, usually in large masses of overlapping caps. It has no stem; the cap is attached directly to the wood. The pores are tiny.
Other names include chicken mushroom and chicken of the woods. Size 2" to 12" wide.
When and Where: Summer and fall; in clusters on living trees or dead wood.
Cautions: This is a distinctive mushroom with no poisonous look-alikes. It does cause a mild
allergic reaction (swollen lips) in some people.
Cooking Hints: Cook only the tender outer edges of the caps; the rest is tough and woody. Slice and simmer in stock for 45 minutes, then serve creamed on toast. When cooked, this mushroom has the texture and often the taste of chicken.
Hen-of-the-Woods (Grifola frondosa)
Description: This mushroom really does look something like a large, ruffled chicken. It grows
as a bouquet of grayish-brown, fan-shaped, overlapping caps, with offcenter white talks branching from a single thick base. On the underside, the pore surface is white.
A single clump of hen-of-the-woods can grow to enormous size and weigh up to 100 pounds. It often grows in the same spot year after year.
When and Where: Summer and fall; on the ground at the base of trees, or on stumps.
Cautions: Many gilled mushrooms grow in large clumps-remember that hen-of-the-woods is a pore fungus. This mushroom has no poisonous look-alikes, but there are some similar species of pore fungi that are tough and inedible. If what you have tastes leathery or otherwise unpleasant, you probably didn't pick a hen-of-the-woods.
Cooking Hints: Use only fresh, tender portions. Simmer in salted water until tender (requires long, slow cooking), and serve as a vegetable with cream sauce; or chill after cooking and use on salads.
There are many other good edible wild mushrooms available to Missouri mushroom hunters, including the popular meadow mushrooms. If you'd like to try collecting some of these, the references listed at the end of this article will help you do so safely.