Mycology 101- Citizen Science

This production is brought to you by the Fresno Mycology Society whether you are wanting to contribute to the field of mycology at large, or simply wanting to identify that mystery mushroom that’s been popping up in your backyard  The level of rigor expands and contracts with the ambiguity of each specimen. Also, know that some areas have special regulations on collecting mushrooms so be aware of the laws in your area. Here we’ve found a gorgeous mushroom, in the middle of summer, no less. Now before we pick it, there are a couple things we should do.

First, take a couple of pictures which show its growth habit, as well as its habitat. Second, take either a physical, or strong mental note of the environment the specimen is growing in, paying special attention to the trees nearby. This information of habit, habitat, and associated tree species, can all be key in identifying your mushroom. But now that we’ve done all that, lets go ahead and pick it. When collecting a mushroom for the sake of identification. we want to do so in a manner that provides the most taxonomically useful information. This means collecting the whole thing, down to the base. and not simply cutting it off at the ground.

An old knife is perfect for prying up a deep stem. These paper lunch bags are great at keeping mushrooms in good shape on their way home. Avoid using sealed plastic bags as they trap humidity which tends to rapidly deteriorate most mushrooms. Also remember to cover up an holes you might make when pulling up your mushroom. For small or fragile specimens, these little compartment boxes are great. Throw in a little moss or grass to keep the mushroom from getting too banged up.

For now I’ll leave a link down below to a document that describes these various morphologies. After you’ve described these features, It’s time to investigate the less obvious characteristics. First thing we can do, is take a spore print. If you have several of a particular specimen, and don’t mind sacrificing one, You can cut the stem, just below the gills Otherwise, you can just lean the whole mushroom onto a sheet of aluminum foil.

I like using aluminum foil rather than paper, because both pale and dark spores contrast well on it, and it’s also a lot easier to scrape off the spores for the next step. Go ahead and leave a small lid on top of the specimen, to keep it from drying out too fast. Now if you don’t have a microscope, getting the spore color, en masse, from a spore print, is still very important on its own. But if you do, go ahead a drop a bit of water on the periphery of the print. and stir the spores off the surface. I’m using a loop here, but a toothpick works fine.

Then, transfer the suspended spores to a slide, add a cover slip, and observe. The spore shape, size, and ornamentation, are all highly valuable pieces of data. Moving on, we can test for a couple of reactions. 10% Potassium hydroxide, or KOH, is a common reagent used in mycology, that, when applied to certain tissues, often produces color reactions at are, you guessed it, “highly valuable taxonomic markers”. Here, you can see the mushroom is staining a distinct, yellow color, from the KOH.

This reaction is listed in most field guides, for each mushroom. KOH can also be ordered online without any issue. The next thing we can check to see, is if the mushroom bruises any particular color. simply by running your fingernail across the cap or stem. Like the KOH reaction, this mushroom also bruises yellow. So now that we’ve collected a good deal of information, we can consult some field guides to try and at least narrow down the identity of this mushroom. Most people stop here, but I would urge you to take it a step further, and catalog your findings in one of two platforms. MushroomObserver and iNaturalist.

Both are community-based identification catalogs, while the latter also employs AI-recognition, with astonishing accuracy, and makes confident identification even easier. Lets quickly walk through both platforms. Starting with iNaturalist. After you’ve created your account, you can upload photos of your observations, here. If you upload more than one photo at a time, it will make separate observations of each, so if they’re all of the same specimen, go ahead and combine them into one. Next, and most importantly you can select the “Species name” box, and it will automatically give you iNaturalist’s AI species suggestions based on its visual similarities to other observations. I think you’ll be impressed by its accuracy.

you can add the location of your observation, making it as vague or specific as you’d like. Add any additional information you might have and submit your observations. From there, the iNaturalist community will either confirm your initial I.D. or suggest a different one. Now let’s move on to the second platform. Like before, in Mushroom Observation, go ahead and create your account, and then click “Create Observation”, in the left hand box. Once there, you’ll be asked to enter in various pieces of information such as, where you found it, what you think it is and how confident you are of your I.D.

Then it will offer you various boxes to check if you have the relevant information. such as how you recognized it, what guide or source you used to make the I.D. What if any microscopic features did you find. Any chemical reactions, and finally, if the specimen is available.At the bottom of the page, if you’re a part of any project, a checkbox will appear, if you’d like to include it in that project.

If you live in the Central Valley area of California, I’d love it if you would join our Mycoflora project You can do this by submitting your Mushroom Observer account name to our webpage at under the mycoflora tab. By doing this, you will help us create an open-source, community-based catalog of our native Fungi. This is a great way to contribute to the field of mycology, as a Citizen Scientist, and is a project that I’m very excited about. In iNaturalist, we also have a Mycoflora project and any fungal observations made in the area, will automatically be listed.

So now we’ve learned how to go about identifying and cataloging mushrooms, and I hope you find this information instructive. For me, going through this process is like a treasure hunt. At the end of the map may be a new gourmet edible, a medicinal or toxic mushroom, but beyond the purely utilitarian prospective, I think simply knowing the names of these species, is intrinsically enriching.

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