Boston Mycological Club

The Joys & Challenges of Mushroom ID

by Joel Kershner

Mushroom Picture Submission Example

"It's kind of like an Easter egg hunt or learning about wildflowers or birds. When you find a mushroom, there's a sort of empowerment that comes from recognizing it and putting a name on it." (BMC vice president, Pam Chamberlain, quoted in a Aug. 2010 newspaper article.)

One of the most crucial functions of the BMC is to help its members learn to identify fungi. For various reasons, the core of active members who are very knowledgeable has not been growing. In order to teach identification, you first have to know how to identify, and all of us would benefit greatly from more members improving their ID skills over time.

New scientific technologies have resulted in radical changes in mushroom taxonomy. However, we are primarily a "club" of curious amateurs who are fascinated by the natural world in all its beauty, diversity and surprises. Learning Latin genus & species names can be intimidating, and the changing classifications have made it more so. But don’t despair….

By nature, some of us are collectors, organizers and classifiers. Others of us want to learn which species of mushrooms are good for cooking or fabric-dying or medicine. And yet others yearn to understand in a deeper way how various species play a role in the larger ecology of the forest. But whatever the path by which you came to your interest in fungi, we guarantee that it will be illuminated and enhanced by the ability to distinguish one species from another. So how can we reduce the intimidation factor and increase our mushroom identification skills both individually and as a Club? A few thoughts:

*Some members are proficient with Latin names and can quickly narrow down which are the possible species. They have probably honed their skills over decades, and may well have a scientific background. However, they will not expect you to be at their level. To a high degree, they are patient and encouraging, and want to share their knowledge. Perhaps the best way to benefit by this is to participate in Club forays and the I.D. sessions that follow them. And, take advantage of a golden opportunity: the annual Fall I.D. teaching sessions! (See the BMC website for details.)

*The genus name of a mushroom may change, but the species part of the Latin name more frequently remains unchanged. Being able to remember the species name is a big step. And even if you don't remember it, you may remember where to find the species or a similar one in your field guide. Recalling the Latin name may follow the visual keying with time. You may recall the common name or the idiosyncratic name that you saw in your field guide. Remembering the Latin name is not an indicator of how smart you are, or your standing in the Club. Recalling the names of Club members you have met on walks is just as important, and for some of us, just as challenging.

*Don't be afraid to take an educated guess, especially after you've tried to key out the identification. (Of course, don't eat anything based on an "educated guess"!)

*Digital cameras and websites have changed the world, and no less so for identifying mushrooms. (I don't think we've gotten to the point of Twittering about fungi, but I may be behind the times.) However, nothing substitutes for hands on identification, especially in the company of a knowledgeable person.

posted 2012-01-08 13:43:18

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