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See EDIBILITY GUIDE for an explanation of X notations.

Cantharellus cibarius (X) - the chanterelle
A magnified view of the undersurface of a chanterelle
Tricholoma magnivelare (X) - the pine mushroom

We are all familiar with the great many mushrooms that suddenly appear in the forests in the fall. Although mushrooms only appear for a short time, they are an important part of the ecosystem. Mushrooms have essential roles in the forest. They perform many jobs that other living things are not equipped to do.

Blewits - Lepista nuda (X)
Marasmius oreades (X)- the fairy ring mushroom

What is a Mushroom?

Microscopic view of mycelial threads, which are only a few thousandths of a millimeter in diameter

A mushroom is the reproductive structure produced by some fungi. It is somewhat like the fruit of a plant, except that the "seeds" it produces are in fact millions of microscopic spores that form in the gills or pores underneath the mushroom's cap. The spores blow away into the wind, or are spread by other means, such as animal feeding. If they land on a suitable substrate (such as wood or soil) spores will germinate to form a network of microscopic rooting threads (mycelium) which penetrate into their new food source. Unlike the mushroom, which pops up then passes away quickly, the mycelium persists, often for many years, extracting nutrients and sending up its annual crop of mushrooms.

Mushrooms are fungi. They belong in a kingdom of their own, separate from plants and animals. Fungi differ from plants and animals in the way they obtain their nutrients. Generally, plants make their food using the sun's energy (photosynthesis), while animals eat, then internally digest, their food. Fungi do neither: their mycelium grows into or around the food source, secretes enzymes that digest the food externally, and the mycelium then absorbs the digested nutrients. There are exceptions to these generalizations; some organisms are placed into their respective kingdoms based on characteristics other than their feeding habits.

Cortinarius violaceus (XX)- a striking purple mushroom

What Do Mushrooms Do?

Slippery Jack - Suillus luteus (XX). This mushroom has pores instead of gills under its cap


Some mushrooms are capable of digesting wood, breaking it down into the primary components of forest soils. They also decay other dead plant and animal matter. A forest in which nothing rotted would soon be choked with accumulated dead leaves and woody material, and starved for essential minerals and other nutrients bound up in the undecomposed debris.

Collybia acervata (XXX) grows in clusters on rotting conifers
Pseudohydnum gelatinosum (X) - a jelly-like fungus with small teeth on the undersurface


Many mushrooms form partnerships with roots of living trees, and the resulting fungus-root is called a mycorrhiza. The mushroom's mycelium weaves itself around the root and actually alters the shape of the root. The mushroom absorbs water and minerals for the tree, but in return the tree gives the mushroom nutrients, too. Since both partners benefit from each other, their alliance is considered a symbiotic relationship.

Russula sp.(XXX) - a mycorrhizal mushroom
A coral fungus - Ramaria sp. (XXX)

Mycorrhizal mushrooms are often seen under trees, growing in lines or rings, following the progress of root growth under the duff.


The pine mushroom - Tricholoma magnivelare (X)

British Columbia forests support a multi-million-dollar industry based on the commercial picking of edible wild mushrooms, many of which are exported to Japan and Europe. In some of our forests the mushroom crops are more valuable than the tree crops. The most common mushrooms picked for profit in the fall are the pine mushrooms (Tricholoma magnivelare), and chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius); in the spring, the morels (Morchella species) are picked.

Many animals also rely on mushrooms for food, especially squirrels and other rodents. Slugs also dine on mushrooms, and certain types of flies spend their whole lives on, and in, mushrooms.

The chanterelle - Cantharellus cibarius(X)
Morels - Morchella esculenta (X)- are found in the spring

Puffballs - Lycoperdon perlatum(X)
The oyster mushroom - Pleurotus ostreatus (X)

Shaggy Manes - Coprinus comatus(X)

Some mushrooms cause tree diseases

Armillaria ostoyae (XX) - a damaging conifer root disease mushroom

Mushrooms are not always beneficial to trees. The most damaging root disease of conifers in B.C. is caused by a species of "honey mushroom" called Armillaria ostoyae.

Pholiota destruens (XX) fruiting on the cut end of a cottonwood

An estimated 4.5% of our annual allowable cut from 1988 to 1992 was lost due to Armillaria root disease.

Poisonous mushrooms

Of course, some mushrooms can also have nasty effects on uninformed humans. Every year mushroom poisonings are reported in British Columbia. Fortunately, most are not fatal. However, all could have been prevented. There is no other way, apart from accurate species identification, to safely tell an edible mushroom from a poisonous one.

Amanita muscaria (XXXX) - the fly agaric
The panther amanita - Amanita pantherina (XXXX) is frequently found under Douglas-fir

If you can't have your wild mushrooms identified by an expert - if you are not absolutely sure about which species you have - don't take a chance!

Your local Poison Control Centre should be contacted immediately in the event of a mushroom poisoning (which is usually indicated by discomfort after eating wild mushrooms) or if you suspect that a small child has eaten wild mushrooms. If a trip to the hospital is necessary, try to bring along some uneaten mushrooms so that the species of mushroom can be quickly identified.

Young Amanita buttons may superficially look like puffballs, but the mushroom inside is clearly seen when cut in half

For hardcopies of this brochure, please contact:
Canadian Forest Service
Pacific Forestry Centre
506 W Burnside Rd
Victoria BC
V8Z 1M5 Canada
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X - edible.
Warning: some mushrooms will cause gastric distress unless they are first cooked. Individuals might react differently due to food allergies. Use caution, as with trying any new food for the first time.
XX- edible according to some but may cause gastric upset in others; best avoided.
XXX - inedible to mildly poisonous, or edibility unknown.
XXXX - poisonous
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Ministry of Forests | Forest Practices Branch