Resources for Identifying Fungi

There aren’t a lot of identifiers for fungi in my area, and many never reach research grade. I’ve crunched the numbers, and found that roughly 75% stay at Needs ID. I thought I’d try my hand at IDing some. Does anyone have any good resources/field guides to start out with, particularly those dealing with mushrooms or lichen? I’m in the New England area if that helps. Also, if there are any other similar topics, please guide me to them. Thank you in advance!

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The problem with fungi is that there are so many species that no field guide can be comprehensive. I have the Peterson Guide to Mushrooms by Kent and Vera McKnight, and even though it covers hundreds of species, I’d say that approximately half of the mushrooms I come across aren’t in it.


That’s helpful, how do you narrow down the species? Online resources, CV, etc.?

If you get a chance, take a class at the Eagle Hill Institute, up in Maine. I haven’t taken classes in lichens or fungi there (yet), but the class I did take (graminoids) was fantastic. I’ve heard nothing but praise for their offerings.

Lichen books:
Lichens of North America by Brodo, Sharnoff and Sharnoff.
The companion Keys to Lichens of North America by Brodo
The Macrolichens of New England by Hinds and Hinds
Common Lichens of Northeastern North America by McMullin and Anderson
Urban Lichens by Allen and Lendemer
Lichens above Treeline by Pope
Lichens of the North Woods by Waleski

I have them all, I’ve paged through them all, and yet I can confidently only ID about three species. Lichens are hard! But I think you’re a more diligent and focused naturalist than I am, so you’re probably figure them out in short order. Good luck!

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I can’t speak to mushrooms, but for lichens, the first step in identification is to identify the substrate, as different species inhabit soil vs. rocks vs. trees (in general; there are exceptions). After that, you look at the growth habit: foliose vs. fruticose vs. crustose. And beyond that is beyond me! (I really should take an intro to lichens class at Eagle Hill, I think.)

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I recommend you team up with an expert, online if not in person. There are plenty of fungi that can be recognised in the field. But there are also species which appear in field guides and give the impression of being easy when in fact there are lesser known very similar species. So you need someone who knows the subject well to advise on which are safe identifications and which are not as easy as they seem. For the latter, you probably need to go to the primary scientific literature and learn microscopy.

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Thank you for all of the helpful info! I’ll take a look at some of the resources. Hopefully, lichen identification isn’t as hard as they say it is.

I know this is our Alabama (AMS) guide; but it will show you what to pay attention to and photograph so that will give best chance of ID, it is a very good visual guide:

Keep in mind any books are likely to have some out of date information; because the past decade has seen a burst of lab-based analysis that is often splitting species; impo some good some bad (i trend towards being a ‘lumper’ in general). Some books are worse than others as far as false information (more on this further on).

Also keep in mind that iNat may steer you wrong because it’s existed for a long time and there are likely RG that are wrong (we know now) that haven’t been fixed with new knowledge. Various Stereum sp. (formerly Stereum ostrea) comes to mind as example, there is a long history of it being mulitiple species, then merged, then split, then merged, then split, then merged, and most recently, dna strongly supports split (this is one I do actually agree with, ha!) and morphologically it is distinguishable in field.

On the good side, iNat has some great mushroom folk so you may find species that you won’t find in books - and be able to research that genus and key it out via internet-research. Basically - this is an area you definitly do not want to rely on CV for, but use the CV to inform what to run-down on your own with human reasoning :)

Red cap russulas are another hard one. Likely books will say it’s one or a few species, but there are apparently many more only differable by DNA (which impo is weird). However, Dr. Buyck is working on a Russula monograph that will address it all and we should at that point be able to assign them to sections in a year or two. So don’t be offended if red cap russulas get bumped back to genus for now.

I saw the Peterson guide was mentioned - not the best for the mushies.
EDIT To say - there’s a new one apparently, so I redact that ^^^ as I have no clue :)

In general, any book by the Bessettes are going to be the “gold standard”. Bessette books for you area I suspect:

Overall a wonderful guide Mushrooms of NE

Common edible & posinous mushrooms of NY if you are interesting in the foraging aspect

Mushrooms of Cape Cod and the Seashore for a more specific type of habitat that exists in New England area

They are have North America specific guides like polypores, milk mushrooms, boletes, waxcaps, etc which will break things down further than you get in the general guide as they focus on one taxon.

Hope that all helps!

Oh, it is. It very much is. I’m far better with mushrooms than lichens. My friend (who is actually pretty damn good at lichens) and I have a running joke whenever we find Cladonia sp. because they are cryptic and naughty little things to ID, LOL! The joke may include some swears so I won’t type it here for fear of offending. But yeah. BIG feelings about lichen ID haha. Just assume for lichens you are probably going to get it to genus at best.

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Oh, and I don’t know where exactly you are but check to find if there are any mushroom societies nearby. Most host forays (meetups where you go looking for mushrooms and work together to ID them) so it can be a good network to find local people more knowledgeable about your specific region. They also tend to host web-based meetings with guest lecturers who are specialists.


Oh, dear, more books to acquire - oh, the hardship!



Thank you so much for all of the helpful links and advice! I’d be happy if I could ID lichens at any taxon level :grin:

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What I’ve noticed that seems to make fungi particularly challenging is that they don’t seem to visually sort into taxonomic groups as well as other taxa. Like with birds, insects, plants, etc. there are usually fairly obvious morphological features that you can use to sort them into higher levels, even if there are way too many options to learn them all individually down to genus/species.

Maybe I just don’t know the features yet but that seems less true for fungi; it’s a lot more of having to memorize each individual genus/species based on a combination of features including its substrate, which makes it a much steeper learning curve to approach the group as a whole.

The ones I know are lichens (usually class Lecanoromycetes), mushrooms with gills (usually order Agaricales), and shelf fungi (usually order Polyporales). But even those have lots of exceptions as far as I know. If anyone has any other tips for higher-level fungi identification I’d love to hear them.

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As someone whose also trying to learn more about fungi, what are some good “beginner” species that are easy to ID?


Yeah I get what you mean. They kinda do? But not as straightforward I suppose. They do so much networking they have their preferred tree buddies :)

The ‘shelf fungi’ usually (i can’t think of an exception right now) will have a obviously pored underside. Like your turkey tail etc. If it’s acting like a shelf fungi but there are not the ‘pore-holes’, for example, you see teeth, you are more likely over in Trichaptum sp, which is not in polypores. If it is smooth and you can’t really make out any pores, you’re in Stereum sp. which also are not in polypore. Both Trichaptum and Stereums can form more crust-like structures as well - this also can make mushroom ID difficult as things come in more than one ‘look’ a lot!

Jellies are tricky as they are kinda all over, and remember most jellys are parasitic so look for other fungi that they are on to help inform; also tend to be wood specific or type-specific at least yup!
E recesa (amber jelly fungus) only grows on willows in the US - this is otherwise not a NA taxon
E creneta (Amercian amber jelly fungus) grows on hardwoods
Phaeotremella frondosa parasitizes stereums on hardwoods and can look similar to Excedia sp. above
Phaeotremlla sp. if on stereum and can’t tell wood species
Naematelia aurantia also parasitizes stereum it is very orange! likely to be confused with ‘witch butter’
Tremella sp. on hardwood
Dacrymyces sp. if on conifer
(basic basic list north america focused^^)

Stalk with a spongy looking underside will be in bolete & allies “Boletales”

Otherwise yup… gilled are usually in ‘common gilled mushrooms’ aka ‘Agaricales’ and brackets/shelf fungi in ‘polypore’. With practice you’ll probably recognise milk vs russula vs amanita etc. especially the milk 'cause they excrete a milkylike substance from gills ‘when fresh’ - but not sure I know how to describe it more other than just getting enough mental images.

Pinwheels are pretty easy to pull out though, they sometimes may be ‘shelf like’ in that they grow on trees “Marasmiineae” but there will prolly be a wee stalk you aren’t seeing. They’re all dainty. SO HELPFUL i know. But they all look dainty and showy to me. Look at that suborder and you’ll see what I mean, and you’ll probably be able to funnel to genus pretty easily without too much trouble

Inkcaps/etc are easy "Psathyrellaceae’ to recognise, their shape is pretty distinct IMPO. And if you catch at right time a lot of them are…well…inky

Oysters, chanterelles, and morels are easy (but chanterelles and morels both have false versions so do be careful before eating). NA however has no poisonous look-alike for oyster; unless you get confused by the bright orange jack-o-lanterns in autumn (but oysters never are orange like that)

Also to add - I ID a lot, and don’t mind being tagged. I’m very very good with some, and no clue on others; and will tell you when you tag me if I can’t help!

Edit to add: also the CV is very good at least figuring out ‘type’ - if you look at the suggestions and they seem all over, but you run them up taxonomically, they usually agree at order or family. Don’t be afraid to use that - as you can guess there is a lot of specialty in the shrooms, so do the Be Bold and go for it. If it is wrong (unlikely - it’s usually great!), it’s probably still recognizable to whoever knows that particular taxon well as which lookalike it is to move it over to the correct folk. If you let it sit at Fungi it will sit. Not saying be willy-nilly, but this is definitely where Be Bold from the ID rules is a good idea!


This is great advice, and thanks for the IDs!

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Are these two facts related? I know that for me they are.

Thanks! I see that they have not only a Southeastern guide, but also separate guides for the Carolinas, Georgia, and the Gulf Coast.

Now if only I could find a similar resource for the West Indies and/or Dominican Republic. In Spanish would do just fine.

Boletes. Look like gilled mushrooms, but have round pores underneath instead of gills.

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Somewhat. The history too - they were originally quickly deemed different, then merged, then split so on so forth for a while. DNA they are very readily distinct as well.

Part of my being-a-lumper-in-general is definitely also related to lots of people trying to split things so much that we start getting scarily close to how much % human population varies; and I worry the tendency to split anyway being a way to try and scientifically back racism in the future - as science has in the past been used to justify such.

They have a new Georgia book coming out, it’s on pre-order right now.


Glad I’m not the only one who has noticed that.


I stay out of a lot of the herp stuff over it. OMG the amount of splitting going on right now esp with subspecies - I really prefer to just keep stuff at species because I have a lot of concern for many reasons but especially with nonsensical border lines and dna. At some point…I don’t think splits should keep occurring or we go down a dangerous path.

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