Beginners guide to some of the common types of fungi.

There are very many species of fungi, perhaps 8 times as many species of fungi as flowering plants in UK so it is a huge task to learn them all, indeed even the experts struggle. However it is possible to get to know the main groups of fungi that are shown below. These groups cover most of the fungi you will see. One of the fascinating things about fungi is that even after many years of foraging each year still turns up species that you’ve never seen before.

I would suggest you look at the pictures and very brief descriptions of the different groups of fungi and try to remember some of them. Then go into the woods and see if you can match up any of the fungi to the groups you have been looking at. Bear in mind that not all of the mushrooms you see will fit into one of these groups and don’t try too many at once, it is better to learn a few at a time and reinforce the ones that you do know. Slowly gain confidence to be able to say it’s a Russula or Lactarius and knowing why you think that. You can also try spotting a few of the very common species such as Birch polypore and Dryad’s saddle that don't fit into the main groups and are shown at the end.

Once you have got he hang of a few common fungi start looking more closely at them and get an idea of the range of characters that are used to help with identification. The colour of cap and stem, whether it has gills or pores (small holes) under the cap, whether it looks like a conventional mushroom with cap and stem or is a bracket growing out of wood or has one of a whole variety of other forms such as being cup shaped. One very useful character is the colour of the spores, you may wonder how to tell this since they are microscopic, however it is possible to see their colour when the spores are heaped together. You may be able to see this when one cap overlaps another and there is a spore deposit on the lower one or you can produce a spore print yourself by placing the cap on a sheet of paper and covering it with a glass and leaving overnight. The groups of fungi are arranged with light coloured spores at the beginning then darker ones at the end.


Russula – Brittlegills.  Many brightly coloured species with caps of red yellow purple green or white.  Brittle flesh easily fall to pieces if handled.  They often have a simple white stem. The gills (and spores) are white or pale coloured.


Lactarius – Milkcap.  Exude milk from gills and flesh when its damaged.  Flesh is brittle like Russulas so easily breaks up.


Hygrocybe – Waxcaps.  Brightly coloured mushrooms with a waxy feel.  In UK usually found in grassland although in other parts of the world they can also be found in woodland


Mycena – small bell shaped mushrooms usually with a long thin stem often found on rotting wood or leaf litter.


Clitocybe – funnel caps.  As name suggests usually funnel shaped some species are very large although others are small.  Gills usually run down the stem (decurrent).  Often have distinctive smells.


Laccaria – deceivers.  Colour often different when wet or dry and can look like any old small brown mushroom until you get your eye in to distinguish them.  Usually on ground in woods or heath.


Tricholoma – Knights.  Usually white or pale coloured gills medium sized.  May have distinctive smell.  May have distinctive scaly or hairy caps.


Marasmius – Parachute.  Most are very small and occur on twigs and other debris.  They are tough and leathery.  But fairy ring champignon Marasmius oreades is an example that is larger and easily recognised.


Collybia – toughshanks.  Have tough flexible stems.  Found on the ground in woodland.


Lepiota – Parasols.  Distinctive elegant shape have scales on the cap and ring on the stem.  Gills white.


Amanita.  All have volva or sack at the base of the stem and several have rings on the stem.  Gills white.


Lepista – Blewits. Generally quite meaty mushrooms with purplish stem with no ring. Some species in woodland, others in grassland.


Pluteus.  Often singly on rotting wood can often see the tinge of pink spores on the gills.


Cortinarius – Webcaps.  All have a web like cortina (which is easily rubbed off if you are not careful).  Gills of various colours but tend to turn brownish red as they release the spores.


Pholiota – Scalycaps. Most species yellowish and usually grow in clumps on stumps or branches.


Hebeloma – Poisonpie.  Caps often slimy and dull cream coloured.  Gills clay coloured.


Inocybe – Fibrecap.  Cap often breaks up into radiating stripes as it dries out.  Small dull coloured fungi often seen along tracks.


Hypholoma – dull orange/yellow or fawn coloured often growing on stumps in clusters.


Agaricus – Generally look like the common cultivated mushroom you see in supermarkets but can have white or brownish or scaly caps.  Look out for colour changes when flesh or stem is damaged.


Coprinus – inkcaps.  Flimsy fungi that easily fall apart and rapidly deliquesce turning the gills into black ink.


Pleurotus – oyster. Sometimes sold in supermarkets. Shell like cap with gills below growing on wood.


Gomphidius – Spike. Look somewhat unusual for gill fungi they are found under conifers and appear to be parasitic on both the mycorrhizal fungi and the trees.


Chantharellus – chantarelles.  They have folds below the cap rather than true gills.


Boletus (and similar Leccinium and Suillus).  Mushrooms with tubes below the cap instead of gills.  Most are rather large and meaty.


Hydnum (and similar Sarcodon Hydnellum Phellodon) – fungi with spines below the cap instead of gills.


Puffballs and Earthballs – Spores are inside a roundish ball shaped structure.  Spore mass usually starts off white and matures brownish.


Earth stars – similar to puffballs except ball surrounded by star shaped structure that opens.


Coral fungi – as name suggests fungi that look like coral.  White yellow grey even pink branched structures usually growing on the ground.


Morels – Brain like fruiting body usually fruiting in spring.


Cup fungi – thin layer forming a cup shape.  Rather variable in shape size and colour some are very tiny.


Some common species not included in the main groups

Tricholomopsis rutilans Plums and Custard.  Plum coloured cap and stem custard coloured gills and flesh.  Grows on conifer stumps.


Armillaria Honey Fungus.  Honey coloured fungus that normally grows in large clusters on dead or dieing trees or shrubs can be a serious pathogen killing a wide range of plants.


Paxillus involutus Brown roll-rim. Normally found with birch trees.  Grows on the ground and can initially look like a Boletus until you check under the cap and find it has gills rather than pores. Distinctive rolling in of the cap rim except in very old specimens.


Oudemansiella mucida Porcelain fungus. Grows on beech trees.  The white caps can be very glutinous after rain.


Polyporus squamosus Dryad's Saddle. Often found relatively high up growing out of the side of the tree in summer.


Meripilus giganteus - Giant Polypore. Huge many layered growths up to 80cm across at the base of trees or on stumps. Often on beech trees


Laetiporus sulphureus Chicken of the woods. Series of bright yellow bracks up to 40cm across, succulent at first.  Drying harder and darker yellow before finally going white.


Fistulina hepatica Beefsteak Fungus. Looks very much like a bloody piece of red meat sticking out of the side usually of oak trees.


Ganoderma. Very large hard perennial bracket up to 60cm across on lower part of deciduous trees.  Often see reddish brown dusting of spores near the brackets.


Piptoporus betulinus Birch Polypore. Whitish rounded rubbery thick bracket on birch trees.


Trametes versicolor Turkeytail. Brackets 4-10cm concentrically patterned grey-blue or grey-brown on deciduous wood.  Note there are a number of different species looking somewhat like this


Cyathus striatus - Fluted Bird's nest. A handful of species now common wood debris especially bark paths.  ‘Nests’ about 1cm across spores in whitish ‘eggs’ which are dispersed by rain splash.


Phallus impudicus - Stinkhorn, Unmistakable. Fruiting body becomes erect from underground ‘egg’ stage.  Flies carry off the green foul smelling spore mass.


Auricularia auricula-judae - Jelly Ear Fungus. Often on elder branches. Looks and feels rather like an ear but dries hard. Found year round.


Xylaria hypoxylon - Candlesnuff fungus. Small branching fruit body about 5cm high.  Black at first turning white at the top.  On dead wood.  All year.


Xylaria polymorpha Dead Man's Fingers. Tough cylindrical black fruiting body up to 8cm high. Usually growing on beech logs or stumps. All year.


Daldinia concentrica King Alfred's cakes. Hard round black balls about 5-10cm across growing on Ash trees.  Show concentric layers if broken open.



Other notes Some of the most obvious fungi and ones that can be around all year are the bracket fungi growing on trees and logs. You might think that these should be easy to identify, and some are, but others can be tricky as many species have the same general shape and colour and have very few characters that distinguish one from another without microscopic examination.

Fungal classification It can be useful to know a little about how the fungi are classified and how they are related to each other as this sometimes helps with identification. The fungi we are dealing with in this guide are divided into two main groups Basidiomycetes and Ascomycetes. The Basidiomycetes have spores that drop off special cells called basidia and are wafted away by the wind, this means that the gills or pores need to be held vertical or the spores won’t be able to drop down and be dispersed but instead they will just hit the gills and stay there. They include the typical mushroom shaped fungi such as Fly Agaric and the Boletes but also some of the other types such as puffballs and coral fungi. In contrast the other main group the Ascomycetes shoot out their spores from special tiny sacks embedded in the surface of the fungus. The Ascomycetes take on a wide range of shapes usually relating to some form of club or cup, for example Dead Man’s fingers or Orange Peel fungus. If you lay the black fruiting body of Dead Man’s fingers on a sheet of paper and leave it covered overnight you’ll see a black mass of spores shot out to the sides of the finger not just dropped down directly below it. Many of the Ascomycetes are rather small and impossible to identify without a microscope but they are very pretty and rewarding to study if you want to take an interest.