Neither animals nor plants, fungi are a separate group of organisms.
They can recycle dead and decaying matter, but can also parasitise plants and animals. Usually all we see are the fruiting bodies, which cast spores into the air, and come in various shapes and sizes, helping to identify them.
The British Isles are home to a phenomenal 15,000 species of fungi and wild mushrooms, found in a variety of habitats but most often in woodlands, fields and grassland but you may be lucky enough to see some growing in your own garden.
Throughout the autumn spotting, identifying and even foraging wild mushroom is fun to do. Keep your eyes on the ground and you’ll see them popping up through the leaf litter and grass in a host of shapes and colours.
Identification isn’t easy, with many mushrooms having similar, sometimes poisonous, lookalikes so it’s a good idea to use a field guide or mushroom book to help you work out what you see. These are particularly useful if you plan to forage to ensure you’re picking the right ones.
We’ve picked out some of the most common mushrooms you might see in our garden mushroom identifier below but for further help there are plenty of books available.
If you’re interested in foraging other wild food buy foraging books on Amazon
Take a look at some of the UK’s most common native mushrooms, with our detailed garden mushroom identifier.
Field mushroom (Agaricus campestris)
Cap: 4-10cm across, convex, domed, expands slowly, smooth white to start, scales peel as it ages.
Stem: short and white, narrows at base.
Gills: pink to start, turning chocolate brown to deep black.
Edibility: eminently edible.
Yellow-staining mushroom (Agaricus xanthodermus)
Cap: 8-15cm across, globular at first then broad-domed, white to greyish brown, cracking or becoming scaly.
Stem: white, bulbous at the base.
Ring: broad, hanging off. Flesh turns yellow immediately if bruised.
Gills: pink, turning grey.
Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria)
Cap: 8-25cm across, broad dome, bright orange or scarlet, sometimes brownish or yellow, flecked with white warts, though rain can wash these off.
Ring: hangs skirtlike.
Gills: white. Often found under birch or pine trees.
Edibility: very poisonous.
Shaggy ink cap (Coprinus comatus)
Cap: 5-15cm wide, pale, woolly scales, bell-like then conical.
Stem: tall (up to 20cm) and narrow.
Gills: white, then pink, then dissolving to drip black ‘ink’.
Edibility: edible, tasty when young (before ink), but if consumed with alcohol produces mild poison.
Fairy ring mushroom (Marasmius oreades)
Cap: 2-5cm across, pale brown convex dome, becoming floppy, with edges wrinkled or grooved.
Gills: whitish. Occurs in large, gradually expanding rings in lawns.
Edibility: edible, but can be confused with other, poisonous, species.
Sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare)
Cap: 4-8cm across, convex, or domed, bright sulphur yellow with orange tints and a brown centre.
Gills: yellow, then green and brown.
Stem: long and fibrous. Sprouts in large tufts, with often hundreds of caps, from tree stumps and logs.
Common ochre russula (Russula ochroleuca)
Cap: 4-10cm wide, dull beige-yellow, convex when young, expands to flat top, becomes wrinkled or ridged at edges.
Gills: brittle, white or cream.
Stem: soft, often hollow.
Edibility: edible but not especially flavoursome.
Liberty cap (Psilocybe semilanceata)
Cap: 1-2cm wide, conical, pale brownish-yellow with greenish tints, often slimy, edges rolled under when young.
Gills: dark purple-brown.
Stem: tall, thin, wavy, white.
Edibility: inedible and hallucinogenic, this is also known as magic mushroom.
Giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea)
Up to 1m wide, but usually 20-50cm. Irregularly round, flesh is white then yellowish, with thick, smooth, white skin that splits across the dome to emit clouds of brown spores.
Edibility: edible when young, before spores form.
Many thanks to Chris Shields for providing the beautiful illustrations used in this feature.
Spending a couple of hours foraging for mushrooms is fun and rewarding, but stick to the rule that if you are not absolutely certain of a mushroom’s identity, then do not pick it or consume it. It’s best to cook all wild mushrooms before eating as only a few are safe to eat raw.
Ensure you only pick where you can leave plenty for wildlife and always avoid picking any rare, protected fungi.
Safest wild edible mushrooms
- Giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea)
- Hedgehog fungus (Hydnum repandum)
- Wood ears (Auricularia auricula-judae)
- Scarlet elf cups (Sarcoscypha coccinea)
- Cauliflower fungus (Sparassis crispa)
- Field blewits (Lepista personata)
- Porcini (Boletus edulis)
- Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)