Mushroom Ethics

Here on iNat and elsewhere, it is a very common practice in the identification of mushrooms, shelf lichens, and other fungi to pick them or break pieces off to show the gills and other underside features. I am not too familiar with mushroom biology, but I do know that the caps we tend to pick are the fruiting body. However, I was curious whether this harmed the mushroom or nearby organisms, or whether the practice is inconsequential. Thoughts?

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My understanding is that it’s not harmful to the fungus itself, which is a bunch of mycelial threads in substrate - as you said, the mushroom is just a fruiting body of the fungus and will eventually decompose. And by picking the mushroom, mycologists have told me that’s releasing more spores but I can’t confirm that. I think as long as you put the mushroom back in the same place it should OK.

Whether or not it’s legal to do this in whatever area you’re in is another issue, and there are ethical questions surrounding whether or not you are having a negative impact on other people’s enjoyment of nature. For example, people probably find hiking less enjoyable when there’s broken bits of fungus littering a trail.

See this previous discussion: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/reasons-not-to-pick-mushrooms/9024

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Thanks! I had figured that it was not a serious issue with mushrooms but was rather unsure about shelf lichens and others. I picked part of a shelf lichen today that I was unable to photograph the bottom of, and this got me thinking about the topic.

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I’ve never picked one of those. I’d be curious what actual mushroom experts (which is definitely not me) think.

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It’s the same for all shrooms, getting the big fruit bodies of polypores from the tree is not the best as it takes the years to grow, but it won’t kill them, just look at them and think if it worth it, most often you can photograph them from downside by using some tricks. There’re not so many of such species, and they’re usually idable with top side only, all the others, softer ones, will grow back quickly enough, but you also don’t need to get them off the tree to photograph.

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On the other hand, shelfforming lichens (and other lichens) need their aerial parts to survive and generally grow much slower than shelf polypores.

It’s best to collect lichens in moderation and only when necessary for microscopy/herbaria/testing.

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My understanding for lichens, if an underside is needed, often you can lift the edge. I usually just flip up a “lobe” in that case to take a photo and it falls right back :) If it is fully attached you won’t get it picked off anyway.

Mushrooms may be legally not able to be picked depending on where you are at, but generally speaking it isn’t harmful to pluck one to take an underside or cross section photo, and often such are necessary for ID.

Ethically - whether foraging or ‘ruining’ one for getting an ID - I like what I have learned from the biopoc communities (in particular “The Black Forager” has some great videos on foraging concepts) - never take the first one you see, and always leave plenty for others. This ensures everyone can enjoy that particular thing (mushroom or otherwise!) and we don’t deprive others - or nature - of what it needs.

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And since lichenologists constantly tell us that the only way to identify lichens is by microscopy and chemical testing, that creates an incentive to collect them.

@wildlife_lore was talking about shelf lichens, which are not lichens at all, but most testing on lichen can be done in the field.

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Since a number of the more distinctive large lichens are reportedly IDable through normal photographs alone (even though the keys seem unwilling to admit this), well, you know.

Also, I assumed “shelf lichen” probably referred to nonphotosynthetic shelf/bracket fungi (Stereum, Schizophyllum, Polyporaceae, etc.) but since “lichen” is not the normal common name for those taxa I hastened to mention actual lichens to discourage wanton actual-lichen peeling.

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Anywaaaaaaays:

Yeah, like people said above, ephemeral mushrooms and annual shelf fungi are basically okay to pick if no laws are violated, perennial shelf fungi and true lichens should be dealt with more cautiously.

A lot of perennial and some annual shelves also house long-lived sedentary insect taxa (e.g., Bolitophagini, large Erotylidae) and the loss of even one fruiting body can greatly affect these K-strategists. Partial slices of the fruit can often be enough for microscopy and have a disproportionately smaller impact on fungivorous beetles than taking the whole thing.

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Thanks for asking this. I had been wondering myself.

I assumed “shelf lichen” probably referred to nonphotosynthetic shelf/bracket fungi (Stereum , Schizophyllum , Polyporaceae, etc.)

Yes, I had been referring to shelf/bracket fungi rather than actual lichens, but it is rather good to know about actual lichens as well. I will definitely change some of my collecting practices, and limit as much as possible.

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Ah i didnt know that nomenclature term use, not heard it before tbh.

For such that are long lived, id still follow the same rules for ethics i outlined above, however, picking for photos of those generally is not required at all. Most of us can ID them with a general photo (and note wood type please!) + good upper surface view + underside view. Typically you can get these on shelf fungi without plucking or damaging it at all. A few species i am aware of noting any staining from brusing (just press a nail into them or something - doesnt have to be huge or damaging!) or re-wet staining on underside can range from helpful to important for ID, but again a small piece can be taken for this or sometimes even noted without picking any of it at all. KoH staining i cant think of many that it would be helpful for in my area and with the other info typically able to narrow down to species without. Like as im writing this I cant think offhand of any if all above info is included that Id need KoH. Many common ones in my area i can ID from upper surface alone plus wood type at this point which is often only one photo from a newb who only posts that one image that isnt really best quality xD ive just seen so many of them lol. If i had $1 for every trichaptum or stereum Ive IDd… S lobatum, S complicatim, and T biforme seem to be everyone’s favs especially now that it has cooled off and kinda between seasons on things.

Plus a good upper surface photo i may find some fairy pins for ya on Tb ;) done that more than once. If you can see fairy pins, its a good upper surface photo :)

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I would usually try to stick my phone lens under a mushroom cap to get the gills and stipe. It can be fussy to get the camera to focus, but it works with patience. Sometimes, I have a small mirror with me so I can get a picture of the underside using that. Occasionally, I’ve accidentally broken the cap with these maneuvers, but I try not to do that.

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All the mushrooms I’ve met have been thoroughly amoral.

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Got a nice chuckle from this one.

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Pre-covid we had an annual mushroom festival every year. Every year someone asked a similar question and the answer from the guest mycologist was always more or less the same. Picking a mushroom is much the same as picking an apple off a tree. The tree will still thrive despite the loss of an apple and the fungus will continue to thrive despite the loss of a mushroom.

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Although the occasional immoral ones are inclined towards crimini behavior.

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