Mushroom Identification for Explorers


One thing you will find among the serious explorers of the world is an ardent interest in identifying the things they come across in their adventures.  Among foragers,  identification of things they might ingest becomes of critical importance.  Whether you are an explorer, a forager or just someone with an interest in mushrooms,  you will want to identify the mushrooms you find.  In this post I’ll discuss some tools that can help you do that.

The Dangers of Eating Mushrooms

First of all,  there is no tool that can absolutely identify every mushroom you might find.  If you plan to eat a mushroom you MUST be absolutely certain what it is you are eating.  While there are only a few deadly poisonous mushrooms,  there are many that can make you wish you were dead.  There are a few, like the morel mushroom that are prized edibles and easy to identify.  Still if you decide to eat a raw morel,  you are likely to get quite ill  – they need to be cooked to remove the volatile compounds that won’t do you any good. You often need more knowledge than some tools provide.


All the Rain Promises and MoreThe most thorough information on mushrooms comes from identification books.  There are good ones like the Audubon Society Field Guide to North  American Mushrooms and others that aren’t so good.  For the most complete documentation on a huge range of mushrooms, you will want a copy of Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora.  It’s a large book and certainly not something you would want to carry in your backpack for long, but if you want the details, this is the book for you.  Arora has also published a smaller tome called All That the Rain Promises and More.  It will fit in your pocket and offers a fun way to identify mushrooms.

Mushroom ID App

While there are some books that are small enough to carry around, a smartphone app can get a lot more information and some easier ways to identify mushrooms into  device you are already carrying.  I did a search though the iTunes App Store to focus in on serious mushroom identification apps that got good ratings and reviews from those that are using it. I then looked at the frequency that they have been updated. This is important because some developers put out an app and ignore it while others provide frequent updates that improve the operation of the app and add more information.

I decided to buy SunbirdMushroom ID North America by Mullen & Poland GbR for $4.99 (iPhone, Android).  They offer similar apps for Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

How Many Mushrooms

Today the app includes 175 species and the developers continue to add more.  That’s a good number and suggests the developers are serious about creating a useful guide.  Still,  it’s a tiny percentage of the thousands of mushrooms out there.  There are many LBMs (little brown mushrooms) that require some significant study to properly identify.  Those in this app are much easier to identify and more likely to be of interest to an amateur.

App Layout

FamiliesThe app has a menu system like this:

  • Mushroom Families
    • Index
    • Search
    • Compare
  • Family List (Tap a family photo)
    • Compare
    • Index
    • Gallery
  • Species Page (Tap a species photo)
    • Anatomy
    • Detail
    • Gallery
  • Identification
  • My Sightings

Families and Species

It opens with a page displaying families as in the screen shot above.  These are not families in the taxonomic sense,  but more like groupings of similar species that are designed to help you find a specific species.  I decided to tap the oyster mushroom icon that listed only one species (Pleurotus ostreatus).

I also did a search for oyster and found two species (oyster and false oyster).  With that search I learned that there is another mushroom that looks sort of like an oyster mushroom – it is reported to be “inedible.”  The oyster mushroom, that is a fine edible and can be found in grocery stores is listed as “Edible according to some sources, seek expert advice.”  It seems that the app developers are afraid to give serious edibility information.  Arora’s books will give you that expert advice.

Species PageOther families have more than once species and will provide photos of all the species in that group. Tap on one of the species that looks like what you have in hand, will bring you to the species page.  The species page gets you most of the information the app has about that species, but you need to use the sub-menu items (Anatomy, Detail, and Gallery) to discover everything the app knows about the mushroom.

I’m not impressed with the gallery photos, at least for oyster mushrooms.  The first photo is a top view of a single mushroom that could be any of several species.  The second photo shows a typical clump of oysters that is overture and badly damaged.  The false oyster mushroom, on the other hand, has three photos that offer good views of the mushroom as you would expect to find it in the woods.


The identification section of the app offers a variety of questions and choices on what they call the “Quiz” page.  These questions attempt to get you to provide a description of the mushroom you are looking at (color, size, shape habitat and so on).  You don’t need to type in anything because all the questions are multiple choice and some have drawings to help you choose the answer that fits your species.  When complete, click the check mark (√) at the upper right to get a list of species the best match your description.  If you do well, you will get a small list of mushrooms and you can tap the photo of the one that looks closest to get to the species page.

My Sightings

CompareAs a good explorer, you will want to record your sightings.  On your first use,  you will see a map showing no sightings.  Click “My Sightings List” then “Add Sighting” to add the species you found. First, take a picture of your mushroom using the camera icon on the page.  Then, type in the name of the species and any comments and click “Add.”  Your phone automatically records your GPS coordinates, the date and the time and the app adds a tiny mushroom icon to your map.  The blue dot on the map is your current location and will cover the icon until you move away from your find. I could not find a way to add more than one photo, so get a good one!


If you prefer books,  look into the ones mentioned above.  If you’d rather have a smart phone app,  try Mushroom ID North America it looks like a good option and continues to improve as the developers add more species.

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