Make sure to use several identification guides just because some might have incomplete descriptions of some important characters used in the identification process. Also make sure that these guides have pictures of the mushroom species discussed. Another important aspect is the description itself which could be in depth describing both macro-morphological and micro-scopical features.
Use guides that describe fruitbody macro-morphology for easy to identify mushrooms. Use complete guides [with both macro and micro-morphology description] for species that seem to be hard to identify.
Don’t rely on pictures too much: Especially fleshy mushrooms found in different development stages show different colors or characteristics. Colors in fleshy mushrooms might change according to environmental conditions such as humidity or temperature. Therefore this is a less reliable feature.
Pictures sent via internet won’t give you accurate identifications results unless the mushroom to identify is an ‘easy one’ for an expert. In some other cases one picture of a mushroom sent via internet with a request for identification is non-sense since there are so many features that overlap case in which not even experts won’t be able to tell you what it is. Besides one picture is just ‘one side of the moon’ in most cases doesn’t show all the characteristics that you need in order to identify that mushroom.
For in depth analyses you’ll need a microscope. In this case spore shape, size, ornamentation or color is important to analyze along with presence of clamps or septa on the hyphae.
What to look for when you want to identify mushrooms?
Habitat –is quite important since some mushroom species are more likely to appear in some types of forests than in others. Some species prefer conifers while some others prefer hardwoods or both. Some other mushrooms prefer grassland. Some species are commonly found in all types of habitats both in boreal and subtropical or tropical climate types –these are particularly well adapted fungi species to various substrates or climatic conditions.
Frequency -if the mushrooms is commonly found or not. Some mushrooms are rather rare but when you’ll find them they will be all over while some other are common but can be hardly found one next to each other.
Season – This is important because this way you can exclude some species that are considered poisonous ‘look alikes’ that may pop up in a different season.
General aspect –single fruitbodies/clusters/mushroom fruitbody outline.
Cap surface –color/scale presence/shape/margin.
Under-cap –gills/pores/teeth/ or combinations? Color?
Stem –shape/color/ring presence or absence/stem base color/rhizomorphs ..
Flesh –consistency or oxidizing reaction in presence of air are just two of the important characters that one needs to look for.
Spore print –in some species has an important role in the mushroom ID especially in those that present poisonous look-alikes that present a different spore print color.
Odor –is an important character because in some species of fungi have specific odors that tells us if they are poisonous or not.
Possible changes –refer to the ontogenetic development of a mushroom fruitbody or environmental changes that affect cap color or size.
All these features are differently evaluated by various authors –that’s why you need to use several guides when trying to get a mushroom ID. Some authors simply might overlook some important features. Reading several descriptions will get you a general description that includes lots of important characters.
Other important things to consider..
An expert advice always matters
Inform yourself and study the poisonous mushrooms from your area or areas that you would collect from. Check for mycological societies around –usually they have checklists comprising the mushroom species found in the collection area.
Don’t pick up mushrooms that ‘ you believe’ that you know them. Being 90% sure of the ID of that mushroom is not what you want especially if you think to fry that mushroom.
Don’t pick up edible mushrooms when you found them near poisonous ones.
If you focus on 5 edible mushrooms that you know very well that narrows the risk of poisoning.
If your 5 species are hard to confuse with poisonous mushrooms that’s even better. Make sure that none of them belong to the Amanita family.
Several opinions on a mushroom ID matters.
Always heat treat your mushroom crop before eating them.
We cannot rely only on DNA analyses in order to identify fungi and this because of several reasons such as:
- Lack of sequences available in databases like Genbank for some fungi species [especially rare fungi]
- Poor sequence availability for some other fungi
- Single publications listing several sequences for the same species. Usually for a more accurate identification you need to consider and compare sequences resulted from multiple authors.
- Sequences resulted from basidiocarps collected in different geographical regions of the world might show a bit of genetic shift.
- We should take into consideration DNA sequences resulted from the analyses of several genes and not only one.
- Some DNA sequences resulted from some genes are more reliable than others [compare D2 to ITS4].
- In some cases you cannot rely on DNA sequences just because they can be easily modified and adapted according to the desire of the person working with them.
- Sometimes researchers cannot get a complete sequence of a gene.
According to my opinion we should always try to identify fungi according to classical mycology methods [macro and micro-morphological aspect] –this works pretty much for most fungi [it is also less expensive than DNA isolation]. However, some fungi species require additional analyses such as morphological aspect of colonies in pure culture [e.g., Phellinus baumii and Ph. Linteus –in which you won’t see differences in fruitbody morphology but they are different when grow on solid media]. For some rather hard to identify fungi I would recommend data collection from classical morphological analyses and DNA.