3 How to identify mushrooms
3.14 The goblet (Pseudoclitocybe cyathiformis)
9 Agrocybe Cylindrica
How to identify British woodland fungi
Don’t know how to identify a mushroom you just found? Come across an unusual fungus in the woods? Here’s our guide to identifying a range of fungi and mushrooms in the USA in woodlands and forests.
If you search the floor of a woodland hard enough, you can find a fungal palette to rival any springtime floral display, particularly in autumn. We’ve chosen a range of fungi to reflect form as well as colour, from the prince – a majestic woodland mushroom – to the tiny pinwheel shapes of the delicate collared parachute.
No two woods are the same, so the fungi you discover may reflect subtle differences in soil type, drainage and prevailing weather.
What are mushrooms?
Mushrooms or toadstools – call them what you will – are the colourful manifestations of subterranean fungal webs or mycelia, which comprise the real engine room of our woods.
Some fungi are saprotrophic: they obtain their nutrients by breaking down organic remains. Others form mycorrhizal associations with trees or other plants, in which both partners share nutrients: the mycelia bond with the root cells and thus ferry nutrients to the hosts. Up to 90% of all plants are thought to have such fungal ‘helpers’.
One of the most unusual-looking groups of fungi is the earthstars, which have a spore sac, sometimes raised on a stalk, and surrounded by rays. There are more than 15 found in the US, and our earthstar identification guide by naturalist Phil Gates describes seven to look out for.
Putting a name to the trees in a wood will tell you what fungi to expect. For example, the magpie fungus occurs mainly in beechwoods, for example, while the sickener prefers pines and the larch bolete is (you’ve guessed it) a denizen of larch plantations.
How to identify mushrooms
Join a fungi foray – it’s the best way to pick up ID tips. Many local conservation organisations organise forays on their reserves.
Take spore prints from your fungi. Place the cap on a piece of clean paper, cover it overnight and next morning you should have a perfect spore print. Fungi fun!
Specialise in a few fungal types, such as colourful waxcaps, coral fungi or boletes. Report unusual finds to your local records group; find a list here.
Correctly identifying fungi to species level is extremely difficult and many species are poisonous, and even fatal, so if you wish to forage fungi, we would advise doing so with an expert.
More identification guides:
How to identify a tree by its bark
All illustrations by Felicity Rose Cole, unless otherwise credited
How to identify woodland fungi
Chanterelle mushroom (Cantharellus cibarius)
Chanterelle mushrooms can be found in coniferous and deciduous woods. Brilliant yellow; gills run part of way down thick stem. Edible (delicious).
Chanterelles are common and widespread in the UK.
False chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aureantiaca)
Cap: 3–8cm. Usually on acid soils in damp conifer woods or heaths. Unlike true chanterelles, barely edible.
Horn of plenty mushroom (Craterellus cornucopioides)
The horn of plenty mushroom is a woodland mushroom that favours deciduous woods and is often found in groups. Blackish, funnel-shaped or tubular cap with frilly edges.
They’re quite localised, but horn of plenty mushrooms are easy to see in some spots.
The sickener mushroom (Russela emetic)
Sickener mushrooms occur in pine woods. A ‘brittlegill’ with a scarlet cap and pure white gills and stem; gills break easily when touched. Poisonous.
Sickener mushrooms are common and widespread.
Charcoal burner mushroom (Russell cyanoxantha)
You can find charcoal burner mushrooms in deciduous woods. A ‘brittlegill’ with a lilac or red wine-coloured cap, often with olive tints.
Common and widespread in the UK, it shouldn’t be hard to find a charcoal burner mushroom.
Wood blewit mushroom (Lepista nuda)
Cap: 6-14cm. Wood blewit mushrooms are found in deciduous woods and hedges. Rich tan cap; lilac stem and gills. Has a sweet, perfumed smell. With age, the bluish-hued cap turns ochre, with wavy edges.
Like many other mushrooms here, wood blewit mushrooms are common and widespread in Britain.
Larch bolete mushroom (Suillus grevillei)
As you might guess from then name, larch bolete mushrooms are found under larches. Cap sticky, orange when young, yellower as it matures. Has pores instead of gills.
Larch boletes are localised but easy to see in the right spots.
Common stinkhorn mushroom (Phallus impudicus )
Common stinkhorn mushrooms aren’t particularly choosy and can be found in all kinds of woods. Cap covered in slime when fresh; releases foul smell to attract flies that spread its spores.
Given their non-choosy nature, it’s not surprising that common stinkhorns are common and widespread.
Hedgehog mushroom (Hydnum repandum)
Hedgehog mushrooms can be found in most woodland types. Cap creamy on upperside; underside has soft, pale spines (hence the name).
Hedgehog mushrooms are common and widespread.
Violet webcap mushroom (Cortinarius violaceus)
You’ll mainly find violet webcap mushrooms in birch woods. Big, beautiful mushroom with a rich violet cap; browns with age.
Violet webcap mushrooms are scarce and will generally require some thorough searching.
Verdigris roundhead mushroom (Stropharia aeruginosa)
Verdigris roundhead mushrooms occur in all types of woodland and also on heaths. Unique turquoise colour with white, fleecy patches when young. Poisonous.
Common and widespread, verdigris roundhead mushrooms shouldn’t be too tricky to find but are well worth searching out for their unique colour.
Magpie fungus (Coprinus picaceus)
Height: up to 12cm. You’ll find magpie fungus in deciduous woods, mainly beech or, occasionally, oak. Bell-shaped cap with irregular white patches, which blackens and liquefies to ‘ink’ as it ages.
Magpie fungus doesn’t exist everywhere in the UK, but it’s easy to see in some spots in its localised distribution.
Height 2-10cm. Yellow stagshorn fungus can be found in coniferous woods, in small clumps on rotten logs and stumps. Slimy when wet; when dry a deeper shade of orange.
Yellow stagshorn fungus is common and widespread.
Coral spot fungus (Cectria cinnabarina)
Bright orange or pink polka-dot pustules. Widespread everywhere on smaller branches and twigs.
Many-zoned polypore (Trametes versicolor)
Banded brackets with pale edges; fresh brackets often purplish ‘bloom’. Common on rotting logs.
The goblet (Pseudoclitocybe cyathiformis)
Cap: 5–8cm. Deciduous woodland, among leaf litter or on well-rotted logs; often persists well into winter.
Plums and custard (Tricholomopsis rutilans)
Cap: 4–12cm. On conifer stumps, especially pine. In spite of its name, bitter-tasting and not edible.
Lilac bonnet (Mycena pura)
Cap: 3–5cm. Often under beeches, but also in mixed woodland. Smells strongly of radishes.
Purple jelly disc (Asocoryne sarcoides)
Cluster width: up to 10cm. Often on rotting logs of beech and other trees. Brain-like clusters glisten when wet.
Collared parachute (Marasmius rotula)
Cap: about 1cm. On dead roots, twigs and branches of deciduous trees. Gills resemble wheel spokes.
Clouded funnel (Citocybe nebularis)
Cap: up to 20cm. In deciduous and coniferous woods, forming large fairy rings. Smells fruit-like, but poisonous.
Sulphur tuft(Hypholoma fasciculare)
Cap: 4–8cm. Abundant in all types of woodland, on decaying stumps in big golden groups. Blackens with age.
The prince (Agaricus agustus)
Cap: up to 20cm. In open woodland, under conifers or deciduous trees. Delicious – highly prized. Scare: searching needed
King Alfred’s cakes (Daldinia concentrica)
Blackish fruiting bodies; when sliced reveals concentric rings. On tree trunks, especially ash and beech.
Sessile earthstar (Geastrum fimbriatum)
The sessile earthstar has a dimeter of only two centimetres, and becomes grey with age. It has between five and nine rays, which are cream in colour. It occurs across the UK, but is more common in England than the other countries.
It can be found on undisturbed woodland floor, often near hazel. The fruiting body comprises an acorn-like spore sac and curling rays. Usually seen between August and November.
Agaricus Family Field Mushroom (Agaricus Campestris)
Found: As the name suggests, in fields normally after a rainy, warm summer. Description: Has a round cap that expands to 10cm in diameter, the colour of which is white at first, but then becomes cream/brown. The gills are dark brown and the stem is thick and short (no more than 8cm tall). Note: Do not confused with the Yellow Stainer mushroom (Xanthodermus) which becomes yellow when touched.
Horse Mushroom (Agaricus Arvensis)
Found: Near stables in early summer to late autumn. Description: Similar to that of the Field Mushroom, but slightly bigger. Cap can grow to 20cm in diameter and stem to 10cm in length. The flesh has a scent similar to aniseed. Note: Do not confused with the Yellow Stainer mushroom (Xanthodermus) which becomes yellow when touched.
Button, Chestnut and Portobello Mushroom (Agaricus Bisporus)
Found: In manure heaps, roadsides and garden waste from late spring to autumn. Description: When very young it has a white, closed cap (button mushroom). As it develops the flesh becomes darker and the cap opens slightly (chestnut mushroom). Finally, when it matures fully the cap opens and it becomes much larger in size (portobello mushroom).
Armillaria Family Honey Fungus (Armillaria Mellea)
Found: Mid-summer to late autumn. Grows on stumps and at the base of trees such as beech, willow, poplar and mulberry. Description: Cap is round, but flattens out with age and dips towards the middle. Pale honey-yellow to dark brown in colour and measures 3–20cm in diameter. Stem is tall and thin and can reach 20cm in height. The stem is white in colour at first, but becomes yellow with age. Note: Do not eat raw.
Found: All year round, but mostly in the summer. Grows on tree stumps in large groups. Description: The cap is round and varies from a creamy-brown to to a dark brown. Usually will be darker on the outside of the cap and a lighter colour towards the centre. Measures from 4–8cm in diameter. Gills are close together and pale yellow. The stem is off white towards the cap and becomes darker towards the root. It also has small, brown scales towards the bottom. Note: Do not eat raw. Do not confuse with Hypholoma Fasciculare, which have sulphur yellow gills that turn green with age.
Poplar Mushroom (Agrocybe Cylindrica)
Found: Mostly on trees such as mulberry, elder, elm and poplar during spring and autumn. Description: Caps are rounder at first, but then flatten out as they mature and can measure between 1–10cm in diameter. Tend to be darker in the middle of the cap and lighter on the outside. Gills are tight and small. The stem is relatively tall and can measure up to 15cm. Flesh has a scent similar to flour and is white/cream in colour. Note: Do not eat raw.
Sheathed Woodtuft (Pholiota Mutabilis)
Found: All year round but most common in summer. Grow mainly on tree stumps in large groups. Description: Cap is cinnamon brown in colour and measures 4–8cm in diameter. Gills are tight and slightly yellow in colour. Stem is up to 6cm in length. Note: Do not confuse with the poisonous Hypoloma Fasciculare.
Auricularia Family Jew’s Ear (Auricularia Judae)
Found: Grows all year round, as long as there is enough rain. Usually grows on stumps and branches of elder trees in groups. Description: As the name suggests, looks similar to a human ear with sections inside an oblong shape. The colour can vary from maroon to golden brown. They can grow to 3mm thick and 10cm in diameter.
Boletus Family Bay Bolete (Boletus Badius)
Found: From mid-summer to late autumn. Grow singly in soil and in groups in dense woodland. Description: The cap is bay in colour, which was the source of the name and has a leathery feel. At first the cap is very spherical, but as it matures it flattens out. Measures between 12–14cm in diameter. The stem is normally much paler in colour than the cap and can become thicker at the base in maturity.
Peppery Bolete (Boletus Piper)
Found: From late summer to autumn on sandy soil amongst conifers, beach and oak trees. Description: The cap is 3–6cm in diameter and rust-coloured. Stem is 3–6cm in length and of a similar colour to the cap. Instead of gills, it has pores. These are a slightly darker colour than the cap.
Cep (Boletus Edulis)
Found: From early summer to mid-autumn. Normally grow in mixed woodlands close to trees, in fields and are also common on golf courses. Mostly grow singly, but occasionally in groups of two or three. Description: Cap is off-white in colour and can vary in size between 8–30cm in diameter. Quite round in shape to start with, but becomes flatter in maturity. Stem is broad at the base and lighter than the cap in colour. The pores are closely packed together, off-white in colour at first, but turn dark yellow in maturity. Note: Do not confuse with Tylopilus Felleus, which has bitter flesh.
Cantharellus Family Chanterelle (Cantharellus Cibarius)
Found: In summer. Can usually be found growing singly in mixed woodlands amongst moss, or in groups on soil. Description: Cap can be round and bright yellow in younger specimens, but tends to become funnel shaped and faded yellow in maturity. Gills are spaced out and run quite far down the stem. The stem is fairly thick (2–3cm in diameter) and can reach 6cm tall. Smells slightly like apricots.
Horn of Plenty (Craterellus Cornucopioides)
Found: From late summer to late autumn. Grow close to oak trees, normally in or near piles of leaves. Can normally be found in the same spot every year. Description: Younger specimens are pale brown in colour, but become blacker as they mature. Similar shape to a trumpet, with curved edges. Cap measures 8–10cm in diameter. Tend not to have gills or pores. Stem is hollow and can grow up to 12cm tall.
Shaggy Mane (Coprinus Comatus)
Found: Late summer to late autumn. Grows in large groups wherever soil has been disturbed, places such as country lanes and bridleways. Description: Cap begins as a rounded cylinder shape, but in maturity opens up to a bell shape. Normally covered in white scales with brown tips. Cap measures 1–6cm in diameter. Stem is thin, hollow and white in colour. Can reach 25cm in height. Note: Can only be used while the gills are still white. Mature specimens will become black and inedible.
Polypore Family Ox Tongue (Fistulina Hepatica)
Found: Late summer to late autumn. Can be found growing on trees or stumps, normally oak. Description: Reddish brown in colour and resembles a piece of raw meat. The cap can reach 35cm in diameter and is normally around 6–7cm thick. Stem is normally barely visible and is very small but thick.
Hydnum Family Hedgehog Fungus (Hydnum Repandum)
Found: Mid-summer to late autumn. Can normally be found growing under trees in groups. Description: Cap is irregular but normally fairly flat. Can reach up to 15cm in diameter. Ranging from off-white to orange in colour. Does not have gills, but spines. These are very close together and grow on the underside of the cap, reaching 6mm in length. Stem is large and thicker towards the base, similar in colour to the cap and can reach 7cm tall.
Laccaria Family Amethyst Deceiver (Laccaria Amethystea)
Found: Late summer to early winter. Grow in woods, normally close to beech in small groups. Description: Bright purple in colour, but fades to a pale lilac in maturity. Cap is small and measures from 1–8cm in diameter. Stem is the same colour as the cap and can reach 8cm tall.
Lactarius Family Saffron Milk Cap (Lactarius Deliciosus)
Found: Late summer to late autumn. Grows amongst conifers, usually in pine needles in groups. Description: Cap is smooth, orange in colour and can reach 12cm in diameter. In younger specimens, cap is round with a small dip in the centre, but becomes deeper as it matures and becomes funnel-shaped. Note: Do not confuse with the poisonous Lactarius Torminosus, which has a wooly, fluffy cap.
Laetiporus Family Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus Sulphureus)
Found: Late spring to autumn. Grows on trees such as oak, willow, wild cherry and yew. Grows singly and in small groups. Description: As the name suggests, cap is sulphur yellow in colour and can reach 70cm in diameter, although they would be too tough to eat at this stage. Texture is similar to suede in younger specimens, but becomes leathery in maturity. Note: Always cut away the base, as it can sometimes contain splinters of the bark of the tree.
Leccinum Family Orange Birch Bolete (Leccinum Versipelle/Boletus Versipellus)
Found: Early summer to end of autumn. Grow among rich vegetation, normally found singly near birch and oak trees. Description: Cap is deep orange in colour and can reach 30cm in diameter. Stem is off-white in colour and is covered in black or brown scales. It is quite thick and can grow up to 25cm tall.
Parasol Mushroom (Lepiota Procera/Macrolepiota Procera)
Lepiota Procera/Macrolepiota Procera
Found: Mid-summer to autumn. Grow mostly solitary, but occasionally in small groups. Can be found in fields, gardens and hedgerows. Description: In younger specimens the cap is round and attached to the stem by a seal, the cap opens in maturity. The cap is off-white and has brown scales. Can reach 25cm in diameter. The stem is thin in comparison to the cap, but can reach 30cm in height.
Lepista Family Wood Blewit (Lepista Nuda)
Lepista Nuda/Tricholoma Nudum
Found: Autumn to early winter, even through frosts. Grows in woodlands, hedgerows, fields and gardens. Description: Younger specimens have a violet colour which becomes greyer with age. The cap is rounded, but curls at the edges in maturity, which exposes the gills. Cap can reach 12cm in diameter. Stem is slightly lighter than the cap in colour an can reach 10cm tall.
Lycoperdon Family Giant Puffball (Lycoperdon Giganteum/Calvatia Gigantea)
Lycoperdon Giganteum/Calvatia Gigantea
Found: Late summer to late autumn. Grows in fields, hedgerows, gardens and parks in sparse groups. Description: Doesn’t technically have a cap, gills or a stem, but is a bulbous growth attached to a small root which eventually breaks. The skin is white and has a leathery texture. Can grow to 80cm in diameter.
Pear-Shaped Puffball (Lycoperdon Pyriforme)
Found: Mid-summer to autumn. Grows on rotting tree trunks in compact groups. Description: A smaller version of the giant puffball, but only reaches 3–5cm in diameter. Has a slightly rougher skin than the giant puffball and is light brown in colour. Gives off a scent similar to latex. Note: Is only edible when young.
Pearl Puffball (Lycoperdon Perlatum)
Found: Summer to early autumn. Grows in woodlands and fields. Description: Thick set and has a shape similar to a club. White in colour and covered in small spines. Note: Do not eat raw and only eat when still white.
Marasmius Family Fairy Ring Champignon (Marasmius Oreades)
Found: Spring to autumn. Grow in grass such as parks, fields and gardens. Get their name from growing in perfect half or full circles, said to be where the fairies dance. Description: Colour is a creamy-brown and cap is quite round in shape. Measures from 1–6cm in diameter. Stem is very thin and can reach 6cm tall but is inedible. Note: Do not confuse with Clitocybe Rivulosa, which grow in irregular circles or half circles.
Morchella Family Morel (Morchella Elata)
Found: Will appear from March to May if there has been a cold winter, followed by a warm spring. Grow on sandy soil and ground that has been burned. Can be found in woodlands, banks, orchards and wastelands. Description: The cap is made up of small gaps which contain sacs in which the spores are produced. It is cone shaped and dark brown, which gets darker with age. The cap can reach 5cm in diameter and 10cm in height. The stem is off-white and thick but thicker towards the root. This can reach 5cm tall. Note: Do not confuse with Gyromitra Esculenta which has a more lobed and contorted cap.
Found: Will appear from March to May if there has been a cold winter, followed by a warm spring. Grow on sandy soil and ground that has been burned. Can be found in woodlands, banks, orchards and wastelands. Description: The cap is made up of small gaps which contain sacs in which the spores are produced. It is a rounded cone shape and a creamy yellow in colour, which darkens to a light brown with age. The cap can reach 15cm in height. The stem is off-white and thick but thicker towards the root. This can reach 9cm tall.
Pleurotus Family Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus Ostreatus)
Found: Early summer to early winter. Grow on rotting trees, mostly beech and normally hidden by grass or nettles. Description: Ranges from a greyish-blue to cream in colour. The cap shape is round and quite flat and can reach 16cm in diameter. The gills are quite spaced out and are cream in colour. The stem is not normally visible and merges into the gills. Note: Always cut away the base, as it can sometimes contain splinters of the bark of the tree.
Found: Early summer to early winter. Grow on rotting trees, mainly oak and elm. Description: Colour varies from white to light brown. The cap is similar in shape to a funnel and the stem is more prominent than the oyster mushroom. Note: Always cut away the base, as it can sometimes contain splinters of the bark of the tree.
Polyporus Family Giant Polypore (Polyporus Giganteus)
Found: Mid-summer to early autumn. Grows on tree stumps such as beech and oak, in clusters. Description: The cap grows in irregular flat sections, similar to petals. Colour is irregular, normally golden with darker brown stripes or patches, tends to be lighter towards the edges. The stem is usually not visible and is inedible. Note: Can only be eaten when young, when a brown liquid leaks from the mushroom when cut. Always cut away the base, as it can sometimes contain splinters of the bark of the tree.
Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus Squamosus)
Found: Spring to summer. Grows on a variety of dead or rotting trees. Description: The flesh varies from dark yellow to cream and has dark brown scales. The cap has a shallow concave shape and can reach 60cm in diameter. The stem is very short and dark in colour and is normally hidden by the cap. Note: Should not be eaten raw. Can only be eaten when young, when the underside of the cap is cream in colour. Always cut away the base, as it can sometimes contain splinters of the bark of the tree.
Russula Family Green-Cracked Russula (Russula Virescens)
Found: Late spring to autumn. Grows near trees, mainly chestnut and oak. Description: Cap is quite thick and round in shape, with a dip in the centre and has greyish-green scales. Ranges from 5–15cm in diameter. Stem is thick but soft and ranges from white to brown in colour.
The Charcoal Burner (Russula Cyanoxantha)
Found: Summer to late autumn. Grows under trees with larger leaves such as birch, elm and oak. Description: Colour of the cap is normally dark and can range from green, to blue, to purple. Can measure from 5–12cm in diameter. The stem is pure white and around 7cm tall.
Sparassis Crispa Cauliflower Fungus (Sparassis Crispa)
Found: Late summer to late autumn. Grows singly in woods, normally at the base of conifers and on stumps. Description: The body is a collection of small frills, similar to seaweed and is cream in colour. It can range from 20–50cm in diameter.
Suillus Family Slippery Jack (Suillus Luteus)
Found: Summer to late autumn. Grow singly and sometimes in small groups. Only found under larch trees. Description: Younger species have a closed cap, but it flattens out with age. Can grow up to 10–12cm in diameter. They have a shiny, slippery cuticle which is where they get their name from. The cap is yellow-orange in colour when young and becomes paler with age. The stem is tall and quite thick, reaching 10cm in height. It is dark yellow in colour with brown patterns most of the way up.
Tricholoma Family St George’s Mushrooms (Tricholoma Gambosum)
Found: As the name suggests, can be found around St George’s Day (23rd April), but best to pick them a week later. Tends to grow in circles and can be found in grassy places, where the grass has not been disturbed. Description: Cap is off-white in colour, round and thick, but tends to split around the edges. Cap can measure up to 5–15cm in diameter. Stem is thicker towards the root and thinner towards the cap. Reaches 4cm in height. Note: Do not confuse with Inocybe Patouillardii, which has a slightly redder cap and grows in woods around the same time of year as St George’s.
Truffle Family Summer Truffle (Tuber Aestivum)
Found: From summer to early winter. Grows on chalky soils, normally around beech trees in the sun. Part of the truffle is normally visible above ground, so is relatively easy to find. Description: Very round in shape with rough, dark brown skin covered in pointy warts. Measures around 3–4cm in diameter. When cut, the flesh inside is light brown in colour and has white veins.
Burgundy Truffle (Tuber Uncinatum)
Found: autumn to winter, but take around 8 months to mature fully. Grows in chalky soil in the shade. Description: Less round than the summer truffle and slightly irregular in shape. Measures between 2–9cm in diameter. Dark brown to burgundy in colour, with pointed warts that are slightly smaller than the summer truffle. When cut, the flesh is chocolate brown in colour with white veins.