Tips for Identifying and Photographing Mushrooms

by Dr. Robert Berdan
November 17, 2013



Hikers learning about mushroom identification by Robert Berdan ©


During my annual autumn Arctic Adventure Photography workshop we brought along a mushroom expert & artist (Diane Boudreau) in green pullover to show us which species are edible. The trail to Cameron falls cuts through moist areas with numerous mushrooms.


Mushrooms can be as beautiful as birds, flowers, butterflies and sea shells to photograph. Mushrooms come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. You can find them almost anywhere though they only appear for a short time and are usually common in spring and autumn. Unlike birds and other animals, mushrooms will hold still for you while you take their picture. A few species are luminescent and will even glow in the dark ( e.g. jack-o-lantern mushrooms, Omphalotus olvascens) . No one knows for sure how many species of mushroom there are in North America so its possible you could even discover new ones. Some wild mushroom species are edible and are they are free to pick.


Bioluminscent fungi

Omphalotus olearius, commonly known as the jack-o'-lantern mushroom, is a poisonous orange gilled mushroom that glows in the dark. by Noah Siegel, August 2007, Randolph Co. West Virginia - from Wikipedia. View a picture of the mushroom in daylight here: This bioluminescence only occurs on the gills and is due to an enzyme called luciferase, acting upon a compound called luciferin leading to the emission of light in the same manner as firefilies. How cool is this?



I picked my first mushrooms in Toronto when I was 11 and sold them - my first business. My neighbour, David Mott, showed me what a morel looked like and told me if I brought him some he would pay me a quarter each. Luckily I found some morels growing along a fence in a nearby grave yard, however I have yet to taste cooked morels.


My interest in mushrooms has been rekindled after seeing Taylor Lockwood's beautiful book "Treasures from the Kingdom of Fungi". I realize now that I have been missing good opportunities to take more artistic pictures of mushrooms. In this article most of my pictures are documentary in nature and I plan to take more artistic photos in the future. In the meantime while the snow flies outside my door I will learn as much as I can before the next mushroom season begins. If you are interested in learning more about mushrooms see some of the links, books and resources I have included below.


Morchella morel


Photo of morels, Morchella angusticeps from Wikipedia commons, by Johannes Harnisch, Peace River Area, British Columbia. Black morels can cause an upset stomach if eaten with alcohol and should always be cooked. They are one of the easiest species to identify and are sought after. They usually appear in spring, late April through to early June in North America.


If you plan to collect and eat wild mushrooms you need to realize that some of the toxins in mushrooms are deadly and you can die and even if you do survive you may need an organ transplant. There are also many look-a like mushrooms not to mention numerous species that have yet to be tested. One of the most poisonous mushrooms belongs to the Amanitaceae family (see pictures of mushrooms below). Some of the mushrooms in this family produce alpha-Amanitin, a cyclic peptide of eight amino acids that inhibits RNA polymerase II . RNA polymerase is an enzyme that your cells require to produce proteins. Once this toxin is ingested its effects start to become noticeable between 10-24 hours after eating after which time it's useless to have your stomach pumped. The toxin begins to attack the liver and causes the cells to lyse and then it attacks the kidneys. If you want to know more about this toxin - read this article on Wikipedia.


My intention is not to incite fear about mushrooms, but rather curiosity and respect. If you take the time to learn which species are edible you can enjoy your hunt and bring something back for the table. There are no dangers to photographing mushrooms unless you do it on private property or get bitten by ticks and mosquitoes. Learning which species are poisonous is a good place to start before you consider collecting mushrooms to eat. To eat or take pictures of mushrooms the first thing to do is to learn a bit about fungi, where you can find them and when and where they might appear. The more you know, the more likely you will encounter them in fields and woods.



Identifying hedge hog fungus by Robert Berdan ©


A mushroom field guide with colour pictures is a good place to start learning how to identify different species, but understand that pictures alone are often not enough to identify a species for certain. Common names are not reliable, try to learn the scientific names if possible. The mushroom shown above is Sarcodon imbricatum also called Shingled hedgehog, scaly hedgehog, scaly tooth or hawk wing. It is found in coniferous forests, deciduous and mixed forests growing on the ground. It is edible according to some of my books and in other books it is not - go figure. According to Diane Boudrea this mushroom is edible, but very bitter tasting. This mushroom belongs to the group of Spine or Tooth Fungi (Hydnaceae) . To correctly identify different mushrooms often you have to photograph them from several angles and view the reproductive structures under the cap. Better field guides also include keys to help you narrow down and identify the mushroom. Some guides also use spore color as an important identification characteristic. However, when it comes to eating wild mushrooms if you have any doubt about their identity - DON'T EAT THEM!



If you do decide to eat wild mushrooms below are some recommendations you should follow:


1. Only eat a small amount of the mushrooms you collect the first time

2. Always keep at least one mushroom that can be used for identification in the event you do get sick

3. Always clean and cook the mushrooms, some species (e.g. morels) may be toxic if not cooked

4. If you are eating wild mushrooms one person in your group should refrain from eating them

5. Untried mushrooms should never be consumed with alcohol, some species inhibit the breakdown of alcohol in the liver

6. If you eat hallucinogenic mushrooms you may want to read this article first - Wikipedia

7. Go with an experienced mushroom hunter, or join a mycology club and learn as much as you can first (I would let the     experienced mushroom hunter eat some first and wait 24 hours before you try them), not everyone who collects     mushrooms is an expert.



If you do become ill after eating a mushroom go to the hospital emergency room and bring a specimen of the mushroom with you so they can contact an expert and have them identify the species. Some mushrooms deemed edible may still cause illness in folks that are allergic to them. Also don't assume just because a group of mushrooms is found growing together or next to each other that they are all the same species. If in doubt - throw them out.



Amanita muscaria (Fly agaric) by Robert Berdan ©


Amanita muscaria (Fly agaric) is a highly poisonous mushroom that can have a red or yellow cap, The cap often has white warts on the surface and there maybe a veil and enlarged volva at the base of the stalk. It is called a fly agaric because some folks would put pieces of the mushroom in a small bowl of milk in order to entice and kill flies. In Siberia some people would drink a tea made from this mushroom for its hallucinogenic effects, others would drink the urine from those that ingested this mushroom to avoid some of the unpleasant side effects. The ferociousness of Viking Berserkers has also been attributed to eating this mushroom before battle Davis et. al. 2012 Field Guide to Mushrooms of Western North America , page 36).


After you photograph a mushroom, pull one out and turn it over so you can view the underside and stipe (stalk) as shown above. If possible note the spore color which is done by taking the mushroom cap home, placing it on a piece of white\black paper, covering the cap with a jar or glass to reduce air flow and then examining the spore print and color the next day. Mycologists sometimes put the spores onto a microscope slide to examine them under high magnification.


Boletus mushroom showing pores by Robert Berdan ©


Above photo shows the bottom of a mushroom belonging to the group Boletus or pored fungi - being held by Diane Boudreau of Yellowknife. Suillus tomentosus also called, Blue-staining Slippery Jack, Poor Man's Slippery Jack and Woolly capped Suillus. (Edible but not tasty). The pores stain blue when bruised, it also has fibrillose scales on the cap. We found specimens in September on a hike to Cameron falls about 40 km outside of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.


Gilled mushroom showing gills by Robert Berdan ©


Above photo above shows a mushroom belonging to the group of gilled mushrooms (Agarics).



Giant puffball, Calvatia gigantea by Robert Berdan ©


Calvatia gigantea, or giant puffball growing under a maple tree near Midland, Ontario in 1980. The inset is a picture of me holding the puffball which is about the size of my head. Photograph taken with an Olympus OM-1 camera, 50 mm lens using Kodachrome ISO 64 slide film - the good old days of film!



Photography Equipment to Photograph Mushrooms

The photographic equipment required to photograph mushrooms is not different than that used to photograph wildflowers, lichens and other small objects. Basically you need a tripod, cable release, a macro lens, a flash and maybe some white card reflectors. To soften the light from the flash you can attach a soft box, or tape Kleenex in front of the flash light source. Of course you have to be willing to get down low onto the ground so a blanket, knee pads or cushion can come in handy. Digital cameras with flexible LCD monitors that can turn and swivel are ideal for photographing from ground level. Of course you can also use smaller compact camera, but photographers serious about control and getting quality pictures generally prefer a single lens reflex camera with a macro lens.




Many of the new DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras offer flexible rotating LCD (liquid crystal display) screens which are great for taking video and shooting with the camera on the ground so you don't have to try and get your eye to the viewfinder. The camera above is a Nikon 5100, but Canon also makes several models with a rotating LCD screen.



A tripod, bean bag or other support that can get you down low will often be required. Even when using a tripod I find that an electronic cable release or using the self timer is required to minimize camera shake from the mirror bounce especially at shutter speeds between 1\2  to 1\8 of a second. Some photographers like to lock the mirror up as well during the exposure, though I don't find this necessary - though I do with astrophotography. The ideal macro lens, in my opinion has a 50-60 mm focal length. It can be used on either a full frame or crop digital camera and you will usually want to use an f-stop of 11-22 to get a maximum depth of field in your pictures. A 100 mm macro lens will also work fine, if you can't afford a macro lens consider using close-up filters or extension tubes - for more techniques on how to take close-up photos see my e-book on macrophotography techniques.

  • DSLR camera with a macro lens
  • Tripod or ground support
  • Cable release or use the self timer
  • Electronic flash
  • White cards or other suitable reflectors

Macro lenses by Robert Berdan ©


Macro lenses with the focal length of 50-60 or 90-110 mm are popular and make excellent lenses for photographing mushrooms. The shorter focal length has a smaller working distance allowing you to get in very close. The 90 mm macro lens allows you to photograph and achieve the same magnification but at a greater distance from the mushroom. For butterflies and insects the 90 mm is often better since you can be further away from the specimen.


Perhaps the most important aspect of taking good mushroom photographs is the lighting. Usually soft overcast light is best, but in dark conditions found on the forest floor artificial light can be very helpful. Small white cards can be used to reflect light under the mushroom, sometimes putting a flash light behind the mushroom can create a rim light effect. Taylor Lockwood sometimes puts a hole in the back of the mushroom cap and puts a small flash light inside - I will have to give this trick a try. The nice thing with digital cameras is that you can see the results instantly and make adjustments in the field to the exposure, composition and depth of field if you need to. To learn more about macrophotography techniques you can purchase and download my Macrophotography e-book for only $9.95 and also look at some of my articles on wild-flower photography.


One of the things Taylor Lockwood does before photographing some mushrooms is he will clean up the cap and remove any debris on the specimen. He might use a pine needle, leaf or branch to do this. A small paint brush or lens brush would also work well. Alternatively you can clean dirt from the picture afterwards using Adobe Photoshop, but it's always better to do it in the field for the best results. Otherwise take your time when photographing mushrooms, vary your angle and try to capture different points of view.


If you want to identify the mushroom afterwards in your photos be sure to get a photo of the underside of the cap, sometimes it also helps to dig one out and look for features such as the volva found around the base of some poisonous mushrooms. It's OK to pick the mushroom and bring it back for identification just try to minimize destruction of the substrate. Also you may need to collect several specimens at various stages of their development. To bring the mushrooms back its best to place them in small paper bags or wrapped in wax paper. Keep notes on where you found them and other relevant information such as what types of trees are growing nearby.


Some additional Mushroom Photography Tips


Tyr using a wide angle lens and include as much of the envioronment in the background. Alternatively include some people, or a hand or finger to give a sense of scale. Some photographers will include a pencil, coin, pocket knife, finger or ruler to provide information about the size of the mushroom. Also you don't always have to fill the frame with the mushroom, leave some space to feature what it is growing on.



Mushroom top view by Robert Berdan ©


Mushroom top view - very difficult to identify mushrooms if you only take a top view photograph. (60 mm macro lens)


Mushroom side view by Robert Berdan ©


Three quarter view showing the gills underneath and the cap - this image provides important clues that can help identify

the mushroom. The stalk has attached gills and the mushroom is white with a smooth cap that is flat.

Mushroom view from forest floor by Robert Berdan ©

In some photos I try to get very low to the ground to show the mushroom from the perspective of a mouse. In the photo above I removed some of the leaves around the bottom of the stipe to show the mycelium extending into the soil. The mushroom was found in a deciduous forest in northern Ontario in October. The cap was smooth, dry and cream coloured. The underside has gills attached to the stalk at an angle. The gills are decurrent (run from the cap down the stem), with a grayish-brown cap. I believe this is a Clitocype species (Club foot?). This mushroom also looks very similar to Rusula fragrantissima in pictures from this web site


Biology of Mushrooms



In all aspects of nature, the more you know about your subject the more likely you are able to find them. To learn more about mushrooms I list several field guides below that you can purchase or get from your local library. You may consider taking a course at a local college or at the minimum watch the YouTube video mushroom identification for beginners - see link below. First try to learn the major groups of mushrooms and appreciate that not even experts can identify every mushroom they encounter.


To identify mushrooms keep a few notes about where you find them and some of their characteristics


1. Size of the mushroom, cap diameter, stalk height

2. Shape of the fruiting body

3. Nature of the spore-bearing surface (composed of gills, pores, teeth)

4. Color of the spores - note the spore color under the mushroom - if not make a spore print
5. Spacing and arrangement of the gills and pores

6. Are the gills attached to the stalk or not, if they are how they are attached - see diagram below

7. Texture of the cap & stalk - is it slimy, powdery, waxy

8. Are there distinctive markings or ornamentation on the mushroom e.g. warts, scales, veil remanants, skirt present

9. Does the cap or stalk change color when cut or exude drops of liquid - you can cut the mushroom with a pocket knife

10. Does the specimen have a distinctive odour (some folks taste the mushrooms and spit them out)

11. Take a picture of the mushroom and include a top view, side view and bottom of the cap

12. Note what kinds of trees surround the mushroom, coniferous, deciduous and identify the trees if possible



If you want to bring the mushroom home for closer study you should put it in a paper bag that breathes. You can purchase wax paper bags and other mushroom hunting accessories from various web sites (e.g. Putting the mushrooms in plastic bags will accelerate their deterioration due to moisture building up in the bag. Some mushroom pickers collect mushrooms in open baskets.



Boletus edulis mushrooms in a basket

Basket of Boletus edulis, edible mushrooms, photo by George Chernilevsky, from Wikipedia Commons.



If you own a microscope like I do, you can view spores and their color, shape and size.


Mushroom spores photomicrograph


Photomicrograph of Coprinellus sp spores (inkcap mushroom). Mushroom spores are important in identifying some fungi down to the level of individual species, however most photographers do not own a microscope. This photo is borrowed from Wikipedia. I µm is equal to 1\1000 of a millimeter. The spores above are about 5 microns in length - a little bit larger than some bacteria. To identify the spores see book by D. Largent et al (1977) How to Identify Mushrooms to Genus III: Microscopic Features which can be purchased from



Spore Prints


Mushroom spore print


Above photo shows a brown spore print on white and blue paper.

To view how some artists are using spore prints as art visit this blog: Resurrection fern.



Spore print template



To make a spore print you place the cap of the mushroom with gills or pores down onto a piece of white, black or coloured paper. Cover the cap with a glass, some folks add a drop of water to the top of the cap and let sit overnight. Remove the glass and cap and note the pattern and colour of the spores. The spore colour is useful in identifying what group the mushroom belongs to. I plan to cover making spore prinst in more detail in the future with examples. You can copy the illustration above to your computer and print it out on your laser printer for use in making spore prints - courtesy of Wikipedia.



Other factors to look at when trying to identify mushrooms is the shape of the cap and how gills are attached to the cap, some of the descriptive terms are shown below.




mushroom shapes diagram


Mushroom cap shapes




Gill attachment diagram

Gill attachment to the stalks



Common mushroom Groups

The Fungi (Eumycota) are divided into 2 major groups, Basidiomycetes and Ascomycetes based on whether their spores are produced on basidia (club shaped structures) or in sac like structures. The majority of mushrooms belong to the first group, whereas the Ascomycetes include the morels, False morels, Cup fungi, Lobster mushroom, Bird nest fungi and Fairy Fans.


Basidiomycetes (Club fungi):


1) Agaricaceae or Agarics, these are gilled mushrooms - e.g. table or button mushrooms e.g. Portobello


2) Boletaceae or Boletes - mushrooms that have pores below the cap instead of gills


3) Cantharellaceae or Chanterelles - funnel shaped , gills run from the cap down the stem (decurrent)


4) Clavariaceae or Coral and Club Fungi - fruting body resembles coral some have single clubs


4) Hydnaceae or Teeth Fungi - fruiting body bears spores on downward-pointing spines "small teeth or iceicles"


5) Polyporaceae or Polypores and Bracket Fungi - shelf-like or bracket-like cap usually growing on wood


6) Tremellales or Jelly Fungi - gelatinous fruiting body usually found on wood


7) Lycoperdales or Puffballs and Earthstars - fruiting body round or pear shaped, outer skin may split into starlike rays


8) Nidulariales or Bird's nest fungi - tiny fungi on soil, wood, dung shaped like a birds nest


9) Phallales or Stinkhorns - fruiting body emerging from an "egg" whose skin forms a volva (sac) , phallus shaped


10) Stereaceae - Crust & Parchment Fungi - usually grow on wood and forms crusts or parchments, resemble lichens


11) Podacales or Gastroid Fungi - presence of cap, stalk and spore mass of plates, rudimentary gills, deformed agarics


Ascomycetes (Sac fungi)


1) Pezizales or Morels, Elfin Saddles and Cup Fungi - fruiting body disc-shapped, cup-shaped, vase-like, brain-like, pitted


2) Helotiales or Earth Tongues - fruiting body usually erect, simple, unbranched club-like


3) Tuberales or Truffles - fruting body usually underground, round, oval or knobby, interior hollow



The list above does not include all the the fungi groups just the main ones - see the book Mushrooms Demystified by David Aurora for a complete list or visit the for a more in depth description of mushroom taxonomy.


In addition to field guies and web sites, you can always carry out a search on Google for images of mushrooms and compare them with the species you think you have identified.


What I am finding out is that mushroom identification is not easy, I can usuallynarrow down a specimen to the family, but getting to genus and species is challenging. In the future I plan to examine the spores and carry out other identification tests on specimens in the field or that I bring home. Some books provide keys to help you eliminate and selectively narrow down the identity of the mushroom, the problem with keys is that some of the questions require that you have the mushroom in front of you. How do you know whether or not a mushroom bruises, changes color or exudes fluid if you only have a photograph to look at?


Coral fungi by Robert Berdan © Boletus fungi by Robert Berdan ©


Top Left: Amanda Peterson holds a coral fungus belonging to the Clavariaceae family which includes 7 genera and 120 species. Collectively known as coral fungi. The mushroom above appears to belong to the Ramaria genus. On the right, Diane Boudreau, an avid mushroom collector, is holding Suillus tomentosus (Blue-Staining Slippery Jack) mushroom showing the bottom of the cap and its pores making this a Boletes mushroom.



Gem-studded puffball (Lyoperdon perlatum by Robert Berdan ©


Gem-studded Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) also called devil's snuff box. These were photographed along a Bragg Creek trail in Alberta in August. They are edible when young. It is probably the most common puffball in North America. Photo below shows mature puffballs in Autumn. Puffballs include the genera Calvatia, Calbovista and Lycoperdon.


Gem studded puffball - mature form by Robert Berdan ©


Gem-studded puffball in fall, Northwest Territories. Spores are expelled from the top.



Earth star by Robert Berdan ©


Remenant of a rounded Earth star (Geastrum saccatum) photographed under conifer trees (Jack pine) on sandy soil, Prelude Territorial park near Yellowknife, NT. They are not edible and most often found on the ground or in leaf litter. They are essentially modified puffballs in which the thick outer skin splits into starlike rays which unfold and often recurve, exposing the spore case to the elements.


Polypore Fungi

Polypore fungi include bracket fungi that grow on trees and are common in deciduous forests. Some species live off live trees others grow on old logs and snags. They can become quite large in size and I have encountered some that are a few feet wide.



Turkey tail polypore, Tametes versicolor by Robert Berdan ©


Turkey tail polypore (Trametes versicolor) grows on dead logs in deciduous forests, this one was photographed near Midland, Ontari . Not edible. According to the American Cancer Society: "Available scientific evidence does not support claims that this raw mushroom is an effective anti-cancer agent in humans though there are several YouTube videos suggesting otherwise. According to Wikpedia there is some scientific evidence that substances derived from parts of this mushroom may be useful against cancer, but further research in necessary.



Turkey tail polypore with algae by Robert Berdan ©


Turkey tail polypore with green algae growing on the surface. The fungus was growing on a large maple tree, near Midland, Ontario.


Laetiporus sulphureus Chicken of the woods polypore by Robert Berdan ©


Laetiporus sulphureus, a.k.a. Chicken of the woods or sulphur shelf. This genus consists of large, fleshy, shelf-like fungi. Typically they grow on dead trees, occasionally on living trees. Widely distributed and common. Supposedly edible when cooked.


Chicen of the woods by Robert Berdan ©


Chicken of the woods


Chicken of the woods polypore by Robert Berdan ©


Chicken of the woods


Chicken of the woods polypore by Roberty Berdan ©


Chicken of the woods - (Laetiporus sulphureus) overlapping clusters of fleshy, smooth orange-yellow caps found on stumps, trunks and logs of deciduous and coniferous trees, living trees and roots. Also called "Sulfur Shelf." Edible. This one was growing on a living tree.


Polypore growing on birch tree by Robert Berdan ©


Polypores or bracket fungi are one of the most important fungi to break down wood. They often gain access to living trees through wounds in the bark as this one has done on a birch tree. Many polypores are difficult to identify down to species.


Poisonous Amanita Mushrooms


Amanita muscaria, fly-agaric top view by Robert Berdan ©



Above and below, Amanita muscaria, also called Fly agaric, This mushroom is often solitary or found in small groups, The cap can be blood red to yellow in colour with distinctive white warts. The cap can be convex to flat and up to 16 inches across .The stalk often has ring (annulus) and the stem is enlarged at the bottom forming bulb called a volva. This species is both poisonous and hallucinogenic.



Aminata muscaria showing side view by Robert Berdan  ©


Surface scales or warts are remnants of the veil. The veil may be absent on some specimens.


Early stage of Amanita muscaria by Robert Berdan ©


Early stages of Amanita muscaria.


Large Amanita specimen by Robert Berdan ©


Large Amanita specimen I found near Bragg Creek in August. This large specimen was almost a foot tall and about
9 inches in diameter.


Top and bottom view of Amanita muscaria by Robert Berdan ©


If you are photographing mushrooms for identification purposes, try to include different stages of the mushroom, often their will be younger mushrooms in the same area. Also show the underside so it is possible to view whether the mushroom has spines, gills or pores and how the gills are attached to the stipe. If possible note the colour of the spores on the ground around the mushroom, alternatively bring a sample of the mushroom cap home to create a spore print.



Other Mushrooms


Deer mushroom? by Robert Berdan ©


These mushrooms were photographed in a coniferous forest near Bragg Creek, AB , but because I did not view or photograph the underside, I can't be sure of its identity- don't make the same mistake by not photographing the underside. My best guess for its identity is: Pluteus cervinus, or Deer Mushroom


Golden Scally cap mushroom, Pholiota aurivella by Robert Berdan ©


Pholiota aurivella, Golden Scally cap growing on a dead log, Midland, Ontario in September. This species is not edible.

Phylum: Basidiomycota Class: Agaricomycetes Order: Agaricales Family: Strophariaceae. Some books list as edible, others e.g. by David Arora describe it as a species to avoid. It grows in clusters on live or dead trees. Click here to view a photo-micrograph of its spores.



Unknown mushroom by Robert Berdan ©


In this photo I pushed one of the mushrooms over so I could see the stalk and gills. The gills appear to be narrowly attached to the stipe (adnexed). Identity unknown.


Funnel mushrooms from Prelude Territorial Park, NT by Robert Berdan


Funnel shaped mushrooms, photographed in Prelude Territorial Park, NWT in September.


Mushrooms from Prelude Territorial Park, NT by Robert Berdan ©


When flipped over these funnel shaped mushrooms have gills.


Funnel shapped mushrooms from Bragg Creek, AB by Robert Berdan ©


Funnel shaped mushrooms Bragg Creek, AB . These had brownish caps and dark brown to black spores. My best guess
is that they are a funnel Clitocype sp.


White mushrooms growing on anothe rmushroom Prelude territorial park by Robert Berdan ©


Small white mushrooms growing on a decaying larger mushroom, September, Prelude Territorial Park, NT.

Nyctalis parasitica - grows on Russula and whie lactarii mushrooms in the decaying stage.


Mushroom side view by Robert Berdan


In this photo I pushed the mushroom over, but I can't clearly see the gills or pores clearly making the identification of this mushroom difficult. It appears to belong to the Boletus group of mushrooms but otherwise identity unknown.


Little brown mushrooms Wedge Pond Kananaskis, Ab by Robert Berdan ©


LBJ's or Little brown Jobs - mushrooms growing next to Wedge Pond in Kananaskis covered in frost.


Unidentified fungi David Lilly ©   Helotiales mushroom David Lilly ©


Above two unusual fungi with small stalk, probably members of Helotiales also called Earth tung fungi. The yellow mushroom on the left was photographed in Alberta and is a Club Mushroom - Clavariadelphus truncatus and is edible. The red mushroom on the right is unidentified. For a chart of Edible mushrooms of Alberta click on this link to view - PDF.


Coral-like Mushrooms (Clavariaceae)

The group includes fleshy fungi with 7 genera and about 120 species, some simple, unbranched, upright clubs and intricately branched coral-like forms. They come in a variety of colours. A sterile base, stalk or trunk is normally present. Many species are differentiated on the basis of of microscope and chemical characteristics.



Hericuium abietis, Conifer coral mushroom by Robert Berdan ©


Conifer Coral Hericium (Hericium abietis) other names: coral hydnum, bear's head, goat's beard. Grows on coniferous logs, and is edible. Spines may reach 2.5 cm or 1 inch in length.


Clavulina - coral mushroom by Robert Berdan ©


When I first saw this mushroom it reminded me of a spiny nudibranch mollusc (Alabaster nudibranch) . This mushroom was found on a dead log in Brown Lowery park outside of Calgary in June. This mushroom also appears to belong to the Clavulina genera consisting of mostly white branched coral fungi. The total length of this fungi was only about one inch.


Coral fungi Ramaria by Robert Berdan ©


Ramaria (Coral fungi) include pliant fungi with elaborately branched fruiting bodies. This sample was found in Prelude Territorial park, NWT in early September. It appears to have dried out. Ramaria are distinguished from other branched coral fungi by its tan to orange-yellow spores and frequently colourful fruiting body. Includes over 35 species.


Other Mushrooms


Red-orange gilled mushroom unidentified by Robert Berdan ©


Reddish-orange mushroom with gills and depressed cup. Deciduous forest in Autumn.


Gilled mushroom growing on dead tree by Robert Berdan ©


Gilled mushroom growing out of a dead tree stump, northern Ontario in autumn.


Red capped mushroom by Robert Berdan ©


Tiny red mushroom cap found on the ground of a deciduous forest in October near Midland, Ontario.


Orange capped gilled mushroom by Robert Berdan  


Orange mushroom with gills.



Clitocype sp mushroom ? by Robert Berdan ©


This mushroom grew along one of the bike trails near Bragg Creek. It was growing under Jack pine trees, but I did not

look at the underside of the mushroom making identification difficult. My best guess is that this is a Clitocybe sp.



Unidentified mushrooms by Robert Berdan ©


Unidentified yellow-brown mushrooms with decurrent gills, northern Ontario, September.


Unidentified mushrooms by Robert Berdan ©


Unidentified orange mushrooms, northern Ontario, September.


Alcohol inky mushrooms by Robert Berdan ©


Alcohol Inky - only poisonous if you are drinking alcohol. This mushroom inhibits the liver enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase that we use to break down alcohol. The mushroom changes color from pale to black, followed by liquefaction, and is its most striking character (see photo below).


Mature alcohol inky by Robert Berdan ©


Small dark brown caps growing out of a rotting log in a deciduous forest, Midland, Ontario in October.


Polypore bracket fungus on birch tree by Robert Berdan ©


Polypore growing on dead birch tree. Autumn, deciduous forest in Northern Ontario.



Phaeolus alboluteus - sponge polypore by Robert Berdan ©


This small less then 1 inch in size mushroom was growing on a dead log in Bragg Creek. My best guess is that this Orange sponge polypore (Phaeolus alboluteus). There is no stalk, and the walls are often jagged.



Golden Jelly Cone fungi Guepiniopis alpinus by Robert Berdan


Golden Jelly Cone fungi (Guepiniopis alpinus) grows on coniferous wood debris and logs. Midland, Ontario.



Yellow fairy Fan Spathularia flvida, earth tongue by Robert Berdan Yellowknife, NT by Robert Berdan ©


Yellow Fairy Fan (Spathularia flavida) also called Yellow earth tongue. Small and often grow in coniferous forests, this one was photographed in Prelude Territorial park in the Northwest Territories in September. Supposedly edible, but small and tough.




Another fungus growing on a dead log, - identity unknown. It was growing in a deciduous forest in Northern Ontario. this photograph was taken in October.


Things to Avoid when Photographing Mushrooms

if you are photographing in a forest on a sunny day you will get more even lighting if you photograph specimens in the shade. If there is no shade create it using an umbrella or stand in front of the mushroom. If the specimen is dirty or covered in debris consider cleaning up some of the debris or removing branches and leaves around the mushroom that obscure the view.



How not to photograph a mushroom R. Berdan ©


This photo shows several things to avoid when taking a photograph of a mushroom. In general try not to put the mushroom in the center of the frame - there are exceptions. If there are branches, wires, grass or garbage in the scene selectively remove them or pin them back when you take the photo.


Some photographers like to use a flash or artificial lighting, others prefer natural light, the choice is yours, you may want to experiment to see which type of lighting gives you the best results.


Mushroom gills close-up view by Robert Berdan ©


Close-up view of mushroom gills


For identification and documentation purposes you may also want to include components that reveal the size of the mushroom, a person's hand, finger, a pocket knife, pine needles, a coin or ruler in your photos.


Yellow capped gilled mushroom possibly Yellow Russula by Robert Berdan ©


Yellow capped gilled mushroom. Found growing in a coniferous forest near Bragg Creek, AB in July. Identity unknown.

Possibly a yellow Russula. Gills adnate, stout stem lacks ring and volva.





Finally, if your camera supports HD video, consider shooting a short clip of the mushroom from different angles. Or if you want a challenge try taking some time-lapse video of the mushroom while it is growing, be sure to protect your camera if you do this in the field. Some photographers cover the mushroom and their camera with a plastic dome (e.g. watch Amanita muscaria time-lapse video).



Unidentified mushroom on the tundra noth of Yellowknife by Robert Berdan ©


Unidentified mushroom growing on the tundra in the Northwest Territories. Caribou have been observed to eat mushrooms as well as lichens.


bioluminescent fungi Panellus stipticus


I would love to find some of thes emushrooms to photograph! Panellus stipticus, grows on rotting wood and has luminescent gills. More common in Eastern North America then the west. Photo by Ylem from Wikipedia commons. A good reason to be photograping in the forest at night. See list of bioluminescent fungi at Wikipedia.



Edible Mushrooms

Mushrooms are cultivated and available for sale at many grocery stores and farmers markets. Picking wild mushrooms is also a growing business in parts of North America particularly the West Coast. Before you try eating wild species you collect why not start by tasting those sold over the counter? This is a safe way to be introduced to the flavour of wild mushrooms. As part of my research on mushrooms I am selecting different species to cook and taste from the store. I can't think of a more fun research project.


Most mushrooms sold in supermarkets are grown commercially mushroom farms. The most popular of these mushrooms, Agaricus bisporus, is considered safe for most people to eat because it is grown in controlled, sterilized environments. Several varieties of A. bisporus are grown commercially, including whites, crimini, and portobello. Other cultivated species now available at many grocers include shiitake, maitake or hen-of-the-woods, oyster, and enoki. In recent years, increasing affluence in developing countries has led to a considerable growth in interest in mushroom cultivation, which is now seen as an important economic activity for small farmers (info from Wikipedia).


Cauliflower mushroom by Gabriel Ehnes-Lilly ©


Above is a Western Cauliflower Mushroom (Sparassis radicata) collected on Vancouver Island, and purchased by Gabriel Ehnes-Lylly at a farmers market in Calgary. This edible mushroom belongs to the Coral and Club Fungi (Clavariaceae) and fruits at the base of pine trees. I was told they were delicious.



Portobello mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) - photo by Leif K-Brooks, Brattlebororo Food Co-Op. From Wikipedia - read more.


Agaricus bisporus better known as Portobello mushrooms. These mushrooms are large, about the size a persons palm and are readily availalbe in supermarkets. They have free grills (gills don't touch the stalk), light brown or white with scales on the cap. Stipe has a ring but no volva. They are a good source of vitamin D. In 1999 there were about 1.5 billion tons cultivated worth over $2 billion world wide. I eat these mushrooms fried in Olive Oil with potato patties and they are delicious.



Whether you hunt for wild mushrooms to appreciate, eat or to photograph them, the more you know about them, the more likely you will encounter them. The best place to look for mushrooms is in wet and damp forests and fields. I have found mushrooms to be most abundant in late summer and autumn, some species only grow in spring (e.g. morels). Check out shady forests, areas around waterfalls, ponds, and lakes. Mushrooms grow quickly and can pop up within a few days of rain - watch some of the time lapse movies of mushrooms growing on YoutTube (e.g. Mushroom time-lapse over 48 hours) to see this. Mushrooms can appear quickly and also disappear quickly and the only way to truly preserve their beauty is to sketch, paint or photograph them. I hope to post more articles on mushrooms next year along with photomicrographs of their spores and I plan to start photographing them at farmers markets and other places of re-sale. Who knows I might even try and grow some mushrooms. Happy mushroom hunting. RB



Disclaimer: I am not a mushroom expert, if I made an error in identification I would appreciate if any mushroom experts would help me identify the species in the pictures where I couldn't. According to David Aurora in Mushrooms Demystified, he says "It takes a good deal of commitment and effort to identify mushrooms correctly" and I am just getting started.




LInks to External Resources


Mushroom Structure Teachers notes - free PDF for teaching Kids from


FREE E-BOOK courtesy of Canadian Government "Guide to Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of Canada"
PDF 31 MB - Database of photographs to help identify fungi by Taylor Lockwood




If you only buy 2 books on mushrooms the two above, 1 & 2 below are my favorites from my collection


Recommended Field Guides and Other Books

  1. Taylor Lockwood (2008) Treasures from the Kingdom of Fungi. ISBN 978-0-9709449-0-0. Contains the most beautiful photos of mushrooms I have come across. Order here:

  2. David Aurora (1986) Mushrooms Dymistified 2nd edition. ISBN 978-0898151695 - Amazon, Excellent reference book.

  3. A. A. Knopf (1981) National Audobon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America. ISBN 978-0394519920. Amazon, nice color photos, but no keys. Common names made up good to search by photos for identification.

  4. J. Duane Sept (2006) Common Mushrooms of the Northwest. ISBN 978-0-9739819-6-4 available at Amazon. Excellent field guide, with beautiful color photos.

  5. Orson. K. Miller (1977) Mushrooms of North America. Nice photos good field guide, not generally available except
    maybe in your local library - some of the Genus names have been changed. ISBN 0-525-47482-x. I bought my
    copy in 1978.

  6. Roger Phillips (2010) Mushrooms and Other Fungi of North America. ISBN 978-1-55407-651-2 . Extensive collection of photographs, but the photos are on blue paper, not in their natural habitat.

  7. Davis, R. Michael (2012 ) Field Guide to Mushrooms of Western North America. ISBN-978-0520271081

  8. Floyd, S. Shuttleworth (1967) Non-Flowering Plants (A Golden Guide) ISBN 978-03-7240149. I have owned this
    little book since 1977. It's a great starter book for kids or adults.

  9. A. Farges (2000) The Mushroom Lover's Mushroom Cookbook and Primer. ISBN 978-0761106609

  10. D. L. Largent et al. (1977) How to Identify Mushrooms to Genus III: Microscopic Features.

  11. D. L. Larent (1986) How to Identify Mushrooms to Genus I: Macroscpic

  12. P. Stamets (1996) Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World. ISBN 978-0-89815-839-7,

Comprehensive list of Mycology Books can be found here:


Mushroom photography contest winners at - see what makes for a good photograph


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