There are at least 171 known species of Psilocybe mushrooms—and almost all of them are small and brown. For novice psilonauts, telling different Psilocybes apart can seem like a monumental task. Yet, understanding the distinctions between each species can mean the difference between expanding your consciousness, making delicious pasta, or ending up in the hospital. So, what do shrooms look like, anyway?
The phrase “magic mushrooms” typically refers to mushrooms that contain psilocybin, the natural chemical that makes you trip. A few genera of mushrooms contain psilocybin, but the most common is Psilocybe. We’ll focus on Psilocybe for this article. But, we’ll be clear: this article is no replacement for the assistance of experienced guides. Instead, it’s merely a teaser, the absolute basics, a little too simplfied.
Misidentifying a mushroom can be fatal, and there are many potential look-alikes. Learning to distinguish one mushroom from another is an art, science, and practice that takes time and patience to develop. Always seek out the help of those with proper expertise in your area. Have doubts? Throw it out. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. (And don’t forget to read our Magic Mushroom Identification Guide for more in-depth information.)
What Do Shrooms Look Like?
We have to say it: magic mushrooms look pretty basic. Small, brown, and unassuming, most psychedelic mushrooms are easy to overlook, whether in a pantry or the forest. Upon closer inspection, however, unique characteristics reveal themselves. Becoming familiar with their basic anatomy can help you understand what you observe—regardless of how they’re procured. There are many species of Psilocybe mushrooms, each with unique growing preferences and physical appearance. If you’re wondering what shrooms look like, here are some magic mushroom anatomy basics:
The cap (pileus) is the umbrella-shaped dome that appears on the top of the shroom. Psilocybe caps appear in a range of shapes and sizes. Some have wavy edges; some are wide; some appear flat; some pointed—possibilities abound. Caps also range in color, from nearly white to ochre. Most Psilocybes have an umbo, a little nipple-like bump in the middle of the cap. Many Psilocybe caps will bruise blue when handled or damaged. Caps feature an absorbent and gelatinous outer layer called a pellicle, which you can peel off.
The gills (lamellae) of Psilocybe mushrooms are located underneath the cap and are responsible for producing spores. These razor-thin structures are unique in their color, density, shape, and other distinct features important for identification. Psilocybe gills often connect to the stem (adnate) or curve to a stop, barely connecting to the stem (adnexed).
Also known as the stem, the stipe is the vertical part of the mushroom that protrudes from the ground and connects to the cap. Psilocybe stems are usually tough and fibrous enough to bend without snapping. As with the caps, many Psilocybe stems will bruise blue when handled or damaged. Psilocybe stems can also feature blush coloration at the base, but be careful—some toxic mushrooms have similar features.
Spores are the “naughty parts,” the primary way the mushroom reproduces. Psilocybe spores are purple-brown to purple-black.* You can check the spore color of fresh rooms by taking a spore print. A spore print is a way to collect spores from fresh magic mushrooms for either identification or cultivation purposes. Spores that are rust brown, white, or another color can signify that a mushroom is not Psilocybe.
What Do Fresh Shrooms Look Like?
Freshly picked Psilocybe mushrooms vary in appearance, depending on the species. As such, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the differences between common Psilocybes. Still, we’ve listed out a few—but not all—simple characteristics to look for in fresh Psilocybes:
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Blue bruising is one of the most important features to note in fresh Psilocybe mushrooms. If your mushrooms were recently picked or handled, they’ve probably developed some blue coloration, particularly on the stem and cap. Psilocybe mushrooms develop blue bruising when damaged. This bruising occurs with oxidation.
Species and bruising aren’t the only factors to consider when it comes to fresh mushrooms. The mushroom’s age at the time it was picked can also influence its appearance. For example, younger mushrooms will be smaller with a tight dome-shaped cap.
Fresh and well-hydrated Psilocybes tend to be moist and sticky. As they lose hydration, their caps can lighten in color.
Wild Foraged versus Cultivated
Wild foraged mushrooms may look different than cultivated mushrooms. Mushroom breeders have selectively bred different strains of Psilocybe cubensis, the most popular magic mushroom species, to create new varieties that display specific characteristics. As a result, cultivated mushrooms can feature unusual shapes and sizes, like the notorious Penis Envy mushroom, aptly named for its phallic appearance. Wild foraged mushrooms will more reliably resemble pictures found in standard field guides.
What Do Dried Shrooms Look Like?
If you have ever seen a bag of magical fungi, it was probably dried. During drying, the mushroom’s long, white stems turn to a grayish bone color. The bright, yellow caps often appear withered and crisp. Properly dried mushrooms should be devoid of all moisture to the point where they can break apart in your hands. Mushrooms that are improperly dried can decay and form harmful bacteria. Blue bruising that occurred while the mushrooms were fresh can take on a grayish color.
What Do Shrooms Look Like in the Wild?
If you’re wondering “what do shrooms look like” there’s a good chance that you probably haven’t encountered many before. So, it’s probably wise that you don’t look for them in the wild without an experienced guide. Different mushrooms prefer different habitats and, over generations, take on characteristics that help them survive in that particular environment. Each species responds to various growing conditions, temperatures, and exposure to sunlight, all factors which can affect its appearance, its potency, and provide clues for identification. Like anything else you encounter in the wild, you should approach mushrooms with caution and respect, and only after thoroughly researching which fungi grow in your area. With that being said, we’ve briefly summarized some key characteristics of popular Psilocybes below:
What Do Gold Cap Mushrooms Look Like?
The most popular Psilocybe species, Psilocybe cubensis (Gold Caps), can grow in several climates, from tropical to temperate zones, and is found on every continent except Antarctica. This dung-loving fungus is perhaps more easily recognizable than others due to its caramel-colored caps and larger-than-life size. Their cap color lightens as it grows, from a deeper brown to its signature golden hue. According to celebrity mycologist Paul Stamets in Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World, these shrooms can grow up to three inches (eight centimeters) wide and six inches tall (15 centimeters). P. cubensis will bruise blue after being handled.
Cultivated varieties of P. cubensis can feature physical traits distinct from “cubies” found in the wild. Yet, the verdict is out as to whether or not different “strains” are actually unique or simply marketed as unique by spore sellers. Below is a summary of the common characteristics of popular P. cubensis strains:
- Penis Envy: Of all of the P. Cubensis varieties, Penis Envy is the most physically unique. Its thick stems often develop a distinct curvature, and its cap is markedly small by comparison. Its cap features a gold coloration, although it can also be white (Albino Penis Envy).
- Golden Teacher: Golden Teacher mushrooms look very similar to P. cubensis growing in the wild. They feature a reddish to a golden brown cap.
- B+: These mushrooms are said to feature a rust-brown cap and are rumored to grow larger than many of their commonly cultivated counterparts. Although it’s challenging to be exacting when it comes to information on B+—characteristics may vary from seller to seller.
Cultivated strains’ physical traits and growth patterns will differ depending on where their spores come from. Individual spore traders will be able to provide more information on the qualities of the cultivars they’re selling. For more information on P. cubensis, read the complete guide by author Michelle Janikian.
What Does Psilocybe semilanceata Look Like?
Like its close relative, P. cubensis, liberty caps (Psilocybe semilanceata) are among the best-known psilocybin-containing mushrooms worldwide. These fungi grow in temperate climates throughout the Northern and Southern Hemispheres during the cooler months of spring and fall. They prefer pastures and manured areas.*
Compared to cubensis, liberty caps are small mushrooms. Their bell-shaped caps measure less than an inch in diameter (2.5 centimeters) and feature a pointed cap. They often grow up to four inches tall (10 centimeters) with a thin stem. When fresh, their sticky brown caps display slight grooves, showing where gills connect below. The cap fades to a light tan when dry. Liberty cap spore prints exhibit a dark, purplish-brown hue. This mushroom’s stem may also develop a bluish tinge at the base.•
A word of caution: working with an experienced guide is extra important before identifying liberty cap mushrooms, especially in the wild. These little brown shrooms look very similar to other potentially deadly fungi, including mushrooms in the Galerina genus. Learn more about liberty caps in our full guide by mycologist Caine Barlow.
What Do Wavy Caps Look Like?
Psilocybe cyanescens, or “Wavy cap,” is a wood-loving mushroom that grows densely in areas throughout the UK and North America. This mushroom’s brilliant copper-tinged cap fades to yellow toward the edges. It sits atop a bright, white stem. Most Wavy caps do not display a pointed tip like other psilocybin-containing mushrooms. Instead, the caps appear wavy and relaxed, like a thick protective blanket after maturing.
The cap nears two inches wide (four centimeters), and the mushroom can grow up to approximately three inches (eight centimeters) tall.* The flesh of P. cyanescens often stains blue after being handled like other psilocybin-containing mushrooms. Also, like other Psilocybes, wavy caps are sticky to the touch.
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Unfortunately, wavy caps feature poisonous look-alikes, including deadly Galerina species like Skullcap mushrooms. So, it’s essential to proceed cautiously when looking for wavy caps—or if someone tells you they have some. For more information, read our guide to wavy cap by mycologist Caine Barlow.
What do Magic Truffles Look Like?
Magic truffles are not actually truffles—they’re more like hardened nuggets of psychedelic mycelium called sclerotia, which develop underground. This rare mushroom delicacy is a form of self-preservation for certain mushroom species. In nature, their mycelium can form hardened balls of sclerotium to store nutrients in preparation for certain stressors like drought, wildfires, or other natural disasters. These sclerotia aid survival for future generations even in the worst conditions.
Very few Psilocybes produce sclerotia. We’ve provided brief descriptions of Psilocybe Mexicana and In the wild, magic truffles are an elusive discovery that few people have the honor of experiencing. Sclerotia-producing Psilocybes are cultivated more often than foraged. Like their mushrooms that grow above-ground, sclerotia contain psilocybin. Although, it’s important to keep in mind that cultivating psilocybin-containing fungi is illegal in most places. Magic truffles are sold legally in the Netherlands.
P. mexicana mushrooms feature many of the same features as the liberty cap: a conical cap, moist texture, and faint ridges that hint at the gills underneath. P. mexicana mushrooms are psychedelic in their own right, but they also produce sclerotia underground. Scleorita coloration can range from pale yellow to brown and sometimes show bluing. For more information, read the guide by mycologist and author Dr. K Mandrake.
Psilocybe tampanensis (Philosopher’s Stone) is a rare little brown mushroom hailing from Florida. It features a convex cap that widens with age, with an umbo. The cap features a light brown coloration that fades to straw as it dries. The gills of this tropical-loving fungus attach to the stems and produce dark, purple-brown spores. Its sclerotia feature a yellow-brown coloration. P. tampanensis is rarely found in the wild. Instead, it’s often cultivated for magic truffles.
As we mentioned above, most shrooms look like any other little brown mushrooms. So, they are easily confused with potentially poisonous look-alikes, some of which may be deadly if ingested. Do not eat mushrooms you cannot identify with certainty. It’s always best to go mushroom hunting with an experienced guide rather than relying on photos or descriptions.
Additionally, the possession, cultivation, and distribution of psilocybin mushrooms are illegal in most places. Except for decriminalized regions, picking or cultivating magic mushrooms can result in a felony charge. For more detailed information on safe and sustainable identification, read our master identification guide.
*Lincoff, Gary. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. A Chanticleer Press ed. New York: Knopf, 1981. Print.
This article is intended for educational and harm reduction purposes and is not intended to promote illicit activity. Always consult the local laws in your region before engaging with psilocybin-containing mushrooms
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