Resources for Identifying Fungi

“There are plenty of fungi that can be recognised in the field.”

I suppose these might just be the ones that have not yet been critically reviewed using modern taxonomic methods.


I “had to” leave an Ramalina (lichen) at genus because the “two species” it could be can only be separated by TLC - thin layer chromatography. What the actual heck. Point being…not sure “modern methods” are all its cracked up to be when defining species.

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@sunguramy, thanks for all the IDs yesterday, it is greatly appreciated!


The book looks good overall from what I see, but I noticed that it was written in 1977 (Edit: 1997, my bad). I know that you aren’t in New England, but are there any other books you’d recommend that might be more up-to-date with current taxonomy or should it be fine?

Thanks for this!

I’m obviously not impartial here, but I’d like to offer for consideration that my dad and sister recently released a 2nd edition to this long-out-of-date book last year (2021) and it’s very different from the old 1st edition my grandparents wrote. If your opinion was set by the old one, the Peterson is possibly worth a second look now. Link here

It’s not just a cosmetic revision-- they totally reorganized it to be more helpful for beginning mushroom enthusiasts trying to get a start on what’s out there. So it’s not taxonomically organized. But honestly, that isn’t really a dealbreaker when it comes to mushrooms because families and higher taxa are useless unless you work with DNA or microscopes (e.g., the two main earthstar genera Geastrum and Astraeus are now in different suborders, archaeotypal gilled mushrooms like Russula are more closely related to the hedgehog Hericium than to other classic gilled mushrooms like Amanita, and so on…) Instead, it’s organized by a few key real-world characters (e.g., gill / stalk / cap color, size and shape) with multiple coding for variable species. It’s like their mosses book if you’ve seen that.

It does use paintings instead of photos, which is a big debate in the field guide world. The illustrations are now paired with the text descriptions instead of on separate plates in the old manner.

Obviously no field guide can have all the species possible for such a diverse group so it still represents a cull, but it offers hundreds more taxa than the old version, and the names reflect modern taxonomy way better. I know my dad spent months tracking species through the databases to update the nomenclature and to see which splits have disrupted iconic taxa.


Oh good to know! I have the old one. In general for moths I’ve enjoyed the Peterson guide because of the illustrations which make the characteristics more obvious. But, I like the butterfly one I was recommended to get because it is photographs, and done same way, so I’m not sure if it is really about the technique rather than pointing arrows at what to look at xD

I will definity agree for beginners - non taxonomically organised is way easier for starters.

Yeah the Northeast one is from 1997 (NOT 1977, lol!) ; I’m not sure if Bessettes have redone it. I know there is a new Georgia one coming out that’s on preorder.


For a field guide covering such a wide area (North America), I’m surprised at how well written, organized, and illustrated it is. I was under the impression that it was best to use field guides specific to your area (e.g. fungi of New York or fungi of New England)?

If you like that new peterson one, i’d just get that to start with. It can be easier to focus on local; and often when things focus in they can include more specific to an area or such; but you’ll find a LOT of overlap. If it reads how your mind works so you find it easy to use, that’s definitely very important. When you find gaps you can decide how to go further - and as you mention New York, i think they have a lot of fungi clubs and likely the members there can point you at their fav’s (and - let you peek at their books so you don’t buy a $60+ book you don’t like).


Cool, thanks for replying!

Yes, it is unfortunate that chemotaxonomy is often taking species-level identification beyond what amateurs can do. DNA analysis is often put forward as the last word in taxonomy, but as I understand it, it is still a matter of opinion whether two specimens with closely matching DNA represent two closely related species or lie within the variation of a single species.

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When it comes to mushrooms, a more immediate concern for many amateurs is whether it is safe to eat. Caesar’s amanita is known to be edible; but the first-edition Peterson guides recommends against it because it is easy to confuse with deadly species of amanitas. When you read of a mushroom species that seems to be safe for some people but not others, you have to wonder: is this variation within the human species, or variation within that mushroom specis?


This is a question I started wondering about for inky caps a few years ago. Until recently all the inky caps were lumped together in one big genus, Coprinus. They were tasty, but sometimes gave people a nasty reaction if eaten days before or after consuming alcohol because of the toxin coprine. The general advice was usually to steer clear of eating any inky caps in temporal proximity to alcohol just to stay safe, but not everybody reported getting the negative effect each time, and this was usually attributed to variation in the humans. This advice is still commonly echoed in books and websites.

But now we know that liquifying into black goo is not a monophyletic trait and has convergently evolved multiple times. The shaggy ink caps (Coprinus comatus) are no longer considered to be in the same genus or even the same family (Agaricaceae vs Psathyrellaceae) as the smoother ink caps (Coprinopsis, Coprinellus, and Parasola). As far as I can tell from the literature, the toxin coprine is only known from the species now in Coprinopsis (and one bolete). So that original uncertainty (and broad safety warning) might just boil down to our difficulty in identifying (and classifying) inky caps.

On the other hand, I’ve done a little research on the deadly toxins in Amanita destroying angels, and it’s been interesting to learn how much they can vary due to environmental factors. Different parts of the mushroom (cap, stalk, veil, spores) vary in their toxin load, and the same spore morphotype or DNA haplotypes but grown in different sites might have different toxicity levels. So it’s not always a taxonomic question. Sometimes things just vary.


My mother decided to get me lots of mushroom foods instead of more ID books for christmas. But the kicker? I dont enjoy mushrooms. And in fact I did give two of the mushroom foods (lions mane chocolate and chaga chocolate) a try and both made me quite ill. Ive had that from actual mushrooms before (even store bought); so theres something that my GI tract does not like. And lions mane is considered choice! Well, My gut chooses to violently reject it. XD Same with those little common cheap mushrooms in grocery stores. I even pick them off pizza.

I did what i could with your fungi. Great work keep it up. If you ever need help just let me know

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Thanks for that!