There’s 10s of thousands of different species of mushroom in the world but only a handful of those are both edible & delicious! Portobello, oyster, chanterelle… all recognizable on a plate but can be difficult to discern from other similar, non-edible fungi in the wild.

While some species have unique trademarks that set them apart, “A lot of times mushrooms can be difficult to identify and have a host of different characteristics that need to be present in tandem to confirm identity,” says Brian Wheat, a local DHEC certified mushroom forager.

Wheat and other mushroom enthusiasts make careful note of gill shape, pore surface, and other telling characteristics to make sure their finds are edible. In addition, they use a number of tests proven to narrow down identity- like taking a spore print.

A mushroom’s spores can be white, brown, black, or even violet. “For some choice edible mushrooms you’re looking for whether the mushrooms spores are white versus any color other than white,” says Wheat. To test this he places the cap of a mushroom on some paper, then covering & leaving it alone for some time. 

“Once you let it sit long enough you can remove the cup, and when you pick up the cap of the mushroom- you’ll find a pattern that is a direct imprint of the underside of that mushroom that has just been dumping spores all that time….”

An example of a spore print of a non-edible mushroom.

A white spore print may be a good sign for some edible mushrooms, but it isn’t a one and done test for all mushrooms. 

“Spore print may be one characteristic you’re looking at in addition to does it have attached gills? Does it have a white stalk when you cut it in half and does it have a white spore print? All of those things combined can tell you if it’s a specific species.’’

These tests are important to confidently identify each mushroom, as there are a number of look alikes out there in the wild that could make you sick! There’s a number of sayings out there for finding which ones are safe- but these generalizations, much like in life, can be incorrect! 

The jack o’lantern mushroom is a known poisonous look alike to the delicious chanterelle.
As such, don’t go out and eat any mushroom that is orange.

“So that whole ‘Don’t touch the red ones,’ or ‘If it stains blue it’s no good,’ isn’t really a safe generalization.

Wheat has shared his passion for foraging with others in previous Wine and Food Festivals and has an AirBNB experience where he guides guests on a tour through a protected section of Lowcountry forest on a quest to locate, identify and sample wild edibles.

Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson