psilocybe serbica mushrooms
Mushroom Observer / DoubleBlind

Psilocybe serbica and the Case of Mistaken Identity

No, this mushie isn't a con artist—it just has way too many names

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Updated April 14, 2023

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We’ll start with this: Naming mushrooms is a tricky task. The official description of Psilocybe serbica came in 1968 from Austrian mycologists Meinhard Michael Moser and Egon Horak. Some years earlier, another mycologist, Vojteh Lindtner, tipped off the duo about some interesting fungi in the Tara mountain range of Serbia. So, they set off there on a trip in 1963. Lindtner was a dedicated scientist in his own right. He founded the National Herbarium of Fungi in Belgrade, and later, the genus of fungi Lindtneria was named in his honor. Lindtner, unfortunately, passed away in 1965, but some records credit him, as well as Moser and Horak, for the discovery of P. serbica. (Or is it Psilocybe bohemica…?)

Moser and Horak found Psilocybe serbica near the Serbian mountain town of Mitrovac in 1963. To test for psilocybin and psilocin, the compounds that inspire the magic mushroom trip, the mycologists used techniques developed by famous chemist and LSD inventor Albert Hoffmann a few years earlier. The two mycologists could easily grow the spores and mycelium of their collected mushroom samples on agar but failed to grow mushrooms from it—their original report blames this on an unnamed laboratory technician who was supposed to care for the culture but let it die by mistake. You can find one of the original P. serbica mushrooms from Moser and Horak’s trip at the Natural History Museum in Belgrade, Serbia.

In recent years, our understanding of P. serbica and other mushroom species found in the same region has dramatically improved, thanks to work by Czech mycologist Jan Borovička and his colleagues. Their work—which focuses on the differences between many Psilocybe species that share similar physical features and habitat—has been instrumental in clearing up mycological confusion that stretches back decades.

Psilocybe serbica vs. Psilocybe bohemica

Much like figuring out your own family tree, properly naming mushrooms is often a confusing affair. The study of how closely different mushroom species are related is called mushroom taxonomy. Just like humans share a common ancestor with monkeys and other apes, all mushrooms are genetically related to each other. Historical descriptions of new species are frequently challenged by modern DNA testing, as such technology becomes easier to access. 

Psilocybe serbica—as well as a handful of other thought-to-be species of mushrooms—are a great example of such taxonomic revisions in action. In 1983, Czech mycologist Svatopluk Šebek described Psilocybe bohemica—two decades after Moser and Horak named Psilocybe serbica. Šebek named it after Bohemia—the western region of the Czech Republic. After P. bohemica came Psilocybe arcana, the “mysterious psilocybe.” Jan Borovička and Jiří Hlaváček described the mushroom 2001. Borovička also first described P. moravica, based on collections of fungi found in the Moravian region of the Czech Republic, in 2003.

READ: How to Identify Magic Mushrooms

Until the late 2000s, most would easily forgive you for thinking all these mushrooms were different species—even the mycologists who studied them thought so. This thinking changed in 2010, however. DNA studies conducted by Borovička and colleagues showed that, despite our misconceptions, P. serbicaP. bohemicaP. arcana, and P. moravica are all genetically identical. The name Psilocybe serbica stuck: It was the oldest description of this species in 1968. In taxonomic tradition, the name goes to the oldest in the books. Although some of the other names are now considered to be varieties P. serbica, types of mushrooms that differ in appearance but share the same genes. In these cases, you’ll sometimes see various names denoted with the epithet “var.” such as Psilocybe serbica var. moravica or Psilocybe serbica var. arcana. Some claim that P. bohemica is merely Psilocybe serbica in a younger growth stage. They also claim that it was originally misidentified as a new species back in 1983 and that the variety concept doesn’t apply to P. bohemica.

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These misconceptions might seem obvious in hindsight, but many of these Psilocybe serbica varieties look quite different from each other, probably due to slight differences in their natural habitat and environmental conditions during growth. These variations are similar to the distinct varieties of Psilocybe cubensis (like Penis EnvyGolden Teachers, or the many albino varieties) that home growers have deliberately cultivated: The only difference with P. serbica is that this variation has occurred naturally.

P. serbica Habitat

P. serbica is a wood-loving Psilocybe, meaning that its mycelium needs a substrate rich in wood to produce mushrooms. As a result, you can find serbica growing in small groups, commonly in broadleaf forests, particularly those with oaks, ash, maple, and beech trees. Though less common, this mushroom is sometimes found under evergreen conifers. 

Unlike closely related species such as Psilocybe cyanescensPsilocybe serbica is rarely found in cultivated wood chip beds.

 READ: How To Grow Mushrooms: A Beginner’s Guide

psilocybe serbica mushrooms
Mushroom Observer

P. serbica Range 

Mycologists have only found P. serbica growing in Central and Eastern Europe—perhaps much to the disappointment of North American foragers. Unlike other mushroom species such as Psilocybe caerulipes or Psilocybe ovoideocystidiata, whose Latin name reflects an interesting physical feature of the species, Psilocybe serbica merely reflects its country of first discovery. However, this naming convention can get slightly embarrassing when they pop up in other places. In the case of P. serbica, these other places include as far north as the Czech Republic and Slovakia and as far south as Italy and Greece.

P. serbica Season

The mushrooms of Psilocybe serbica can appear at varying times depending on the variety, but early fall to early winter is the most common. In their native European range, the best time to find Psilocybe serbica is around October or November. Heat-tolerant varieties (e.g., Psilocybe serbica var. moravica) can fruit as early as July if the summer has been exceptionally cool; cold-tolerant varieties may fruit as late as January in mild winters. 

P. serbica Identification

Though the different varieties of P. serbica can have slight differences in appearance. Generally speaking, however, these mushrooms grow to about four inches tall with a cap that opens to a maximum diameter of around two inches. Like some other wood-loving Psilocybes, the cap of P. serbica is a yellow-to-orange tone of brown, becoming lighter when dry. Those with a keen eye can make out little lines that radiate out from the center of the cap like the spokes of a bike wheel. When the mushroom’s cap is young, it looks like a flattened cone. It becomes more convex or slightly wavy around the edges (campanulate) as the mushroom matures.

The gills of this mushroom attach to the stem either narrowly (adnexed) or broadly (adnate), usually curving down the stem for a short distance (subdecurrent). The gills are a light brown in younger mushrooms and become a darker, almost purplish brown as they age. The gill margin— where the gills meet the edge of the cap—is often a pale off-white color. Like all wild-growing Psilocybe species, the spore print of Psilocybe serbica is purplish black.

The stem of P. serbica is smooth and white, sometimes dotted with brown patches. It slightly widens towards the base. Like other Psilocybes, the stem and cap can bruise blueish green when damaged.

P. serbica Look-alikes 

P. serbica (particularly var. arcana) can resemble Hypholoma subericaeum, but the latter tends to grow in more heavily waterlogged soils.

Many Psilocybe species, including P. serbica, can be confused with other mushroom species—especially if you lack experience in mushroom identification. “Little brown mushrooms” are a group of species that are difficult to identify due to their similar size and brownish color. These mushrooms can include edible species, but also psychoactive Psilocybes and poisonous species. One of these, with the not-so-friendly name of “funeral bell” (Galerina marginata), is widespread and contains deadly amatoxins. These toxic compounds can cause gastrointestinal problems, liver damage, hypothermia, and death if ingested in large enough amounts. Some descriptions of P. serbica specifically warn about their resemblance to Galerina marginata. So, if you’re unsure, do not consume these mushrooms. 

Hypholoma subericaeum
Hypholoma subericaeum | Wikimedia Commons

Other P. serbica look-alikes include the sheathed woodtuft (Kuehneromyces mutabilis). This species is edible, so a misidentification here might only end in disappointment rather than a trip to the emergency room. Many guidebooks warn that the sheathed woodtuft also can be easily confused with the deadly Galerina marginata—so take extra care when trying to identify what you find!

Galerina marginata
Galerina marginata | Wikimedia Commons

P. serbica can also be mistaken for Psilocybe cyanescens, to which it is closely related. Both grow in similar habitats, though P. cyanescens grows more commonly in cultivated wood chip beds. P. cyanescens also has a wavy cap when mature, a feature that different varieties of P. serbica also show to different extents.

P. serbica potency 

Depending on the variety, Psilocybe serbica may contain up to around 1.6 percent psilocybin and 0.8 percent psilocin by dry weight. A 2022 study also found that P. serbica also contains alkaloids like baeocystin (up to 0.3 percent), norbaeocystin (up to 0.2 percent), and aeruginascin (up to 0.01 percent). As with many other psilocybin-containing species, potency can vary considerably between mushrooms, so always dose cautiously.

Consuming Psilocybe serbica

If you’ve confidently identified P. serbica and are preparing to consume it, you should probably be aware of wood lover’s paralysis. There’s still a lot to learn about this condition, but it seems to sporadically affect those who consume wood-loving psilocybes with mild-to-serious reversible paralysis, so take particular care with this species. 

DoubleBlind Magazine does not encourage or condone any illegal activities, including but not limited to the use of illegal substances. We do not provide mental health, clinical, or medical services. We are not a substitute for medical, psychological, or psychiatric diagnosis, treatment, or advice. If you are in a crisis or if you or any other person may be in danger or experiencing a mental health emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency resources. If you are considering suicide, please call 988 to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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