Identification of Wild Mushrooms in Virginia

Bright orange chanterelle mushrooms can be found in Virginia.
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Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi, and the state of Virginia has a wide variety of wild mushrooms. Some of these are edible, but many are not – in fact, many are poisonous. When gathering mushrooms in Virginia, correct identification is important to make sure those poisonous and edible mushrooms aren't mixed.

Warnings

  • Always work with an experienced guide when foraging for edible wild mushrooms.

Smooth and Golden Chanterelles

Two of the most popular mushrooms in Virginia are the golden chanterelles (​Cantharellus cibarius​) and smooth chanterelles (​C. lateritius​). These colorful, trumpet-shaped mushrooms are identifiable by their yellow or pale yellow "false" gills on their underside. The "gills" are actually ridges that fork off as they near the edge of the cap and have clear cross-veins. Chanterelles have firm, stringy flesh that is described to have a velvety texture and peppery flavor when cooked. When gathering chanterelles, look for scattered groups in leaf litter or among the grass – never on logs or trees.

There are a couple of inedible look-alike species to be aware of such as the Jack-o-Lantern (​Omphalotus illudens​), which is distinguished by its "true gills" and brighter yellow color. Another look-alike is the false chanterelle (​Hygrophoropsis aurantiac​​a​) with similar "gills" to chanterelles; however, they don't have obvious cross-veins, and they are orange. False chanterelles are have thinner flesh and grow on decaying logs.

Black Trumpet Chanterelles

Black trumpet chanterelles (​Craterellus cornucopioides​) look like a dark-brown or black trumpet or vase with wavy edges. They grow in groups among woods and on mossy hillsides in the summer months. Black trumpet's surface usually has a dry, scaly texture. Like the golden chanterelles, black trumpet chanterelles lack "true gills." These ridges are gray when young and turn to a pale pink color as they mature.

Morels

Morels (​Morchella​ spp.) are the most popular yet hardest to find on this mushroom species list. Morels grow among the leaf litter underneath yellow poplars (​Liriodendron tulipifera​), elm (​Ulmus​ spp.), oak (​Quercus​ spp.) and ash (​Fraxinus​ spp.) trees. They grow for approximately five weeks in the summer between late March and early May. Morels have a very distinctive appearance, like a conical brain that is hollow on the inside. These mushrooms tend to fruit in bunches on the ground.

When gathering morels, be wary of the poisonous big red false morel (​Gyromitra caroliniana​). This mushroom has a similar brainlike appearance to the true morels but isn't hollow inside. Its cap is reddish-brown on the outside and tan on the inside with a white stalk.

Giant Puffball

The giant puffball (​Calvatia gigantea) is an edible mushroom that grows up to 20 inches in diameter. As its name suggests, it looks like a giant, globular ball growing on the leaf litter or in fields. Puffballs are pure white all the way through. As the puffball ages, cracks form on the surface, releasing the mushroom's spores.

Oyster Mushrooms

Graceful, white or grayish oyster mushrooms (​Pleurotus ostreatus​) grow in clusters on dead trees, logs and living tree trunks. They have a large, shelf-like fruiting body with narrow gills on their underside. They are identifiable by their short, thick off-center stalks, semi-circular cap and thick, fleshy texture. Oyster mushrooms grow from spring to autumn in Virginia.

Chicken-of-the-Woods

Chicken-of-the-woods (​Laetiporus sulphureus​) is a yellow and orange polypore mushroom that grows in bunches on the sides of oak trees. It can be found in Virginia forests from spring until autumn. It gets its name from its flavor - the young mushrooms are said to taste like chicken when cooked.

Amanita Family

Mushrooms in the ​Amanita​ genus are poisonous and hallucinogenic​. Many look similar to edible varieties of mushrooms in Virginia. Because of the similarities, is important to properly identify mushrooms before eating them. When eating wild mushrooms, always cook them and keep a fresh one from the batch aside for later identification if a stomach upset occurs.

Mushroom Collecting

Collecting edible wild mushrooms in Virginia is permitted in national parks for personal use only. Knowing which mushrooms are edible is important because collecting medicinal, poisonous or woody shelf mushrooms that grow on the sides of trees is prohibited. Joining a local mushroom club and getting a good field guide will help with identification.

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