Known as the Golden State, California is an interesting area with diverse landscapes and rich biodiversity. It is filled with a plethora of various flora and fauna, including a wide array of mushrooms. The mushrooms in California range in size, shape, and color, and many of them are safe to consume.
Below you will learn about some of the most common edible, and toxic, mushrooms in California.
Edible Mushrooms in California
Foraging for wild mushrooms in California can be dangerous. While there are many different safe and edible mushrooms found throughout the state, there are several that can pose a risk to your health. That is why it is essential to exercise caution during and after mushroom hunting.
Only consume mushrooms that you can confidently identify. If you’re not certain about a mushroom’s identity, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and just assume it’s not edible. Additionally, consider seeking guidance from a mycologist or another expert in the field of mushrooms.
1. Oak Chanterelle
- Scientific Name: Cantharellus californicus
- Average Size: Cap grows between ½ and 2 ½ inches in diameter
- Habitat: Coniferous and hardwood forests, often found growing under oak trees.
The Oak chanterelle mushrooms are trumpet-shaped with a pale yellow hue. They are an edible mushroom that is known for their slight fruity flavor.
- Scientific Name: Morchella spp.
- Average Size: 1 to 4 inches tall
- Habitat: Deciduous forests, and areas that have been disturbed or recently burned.
Morels may just be the most popular wild mushroom. They have a honeycomb or brain-like appearance and come in a variety of colors, including yellow, yellowish brown, brown, gray, grayish black, and olive. They have an earthy flavor and can be used in various recipes and dishes, including sautéed, baked, fried, and even breaded.
- Scientific Name: Boletus edulis
- Average Size: Vary in size from smaller than an inch to as tall as one foot.
- Habitat: Oak and pine forests that are found in higher elevations.
These edible mushrooms have a tick stem, and brown cap, and are rather popular in Italian cuisine. They are most commonly found in the higher elevations of the state, and are known for their savory, nutty flavor.
4. Hedgehog Mushroom
- Scientific Name: Hydnum repandum
- Average Size: 1 to 3 inches tall with a cap that is 1 ¼ to 4 inches wide
- Habitat: Coniferous and hardwood forests.
The Hedgehog mushrooms are named after their unique appearance. These fungi have spiky tooth-like structures located on the underside of their cap, making them look similar to the back of a hedgehog. They have a mild, nutty flavor, but some people state the hedgehog mushroom as a slight apricot taste.
- Scientific Name: Tricholoma magnivelare
- Average Size: Caps are 2 to 8 inches in diameter
- Habitat: Coniferous forests, especially in the fall.
These mushrooms are a common ingredient in various Japanese cuisines. They have a spicy flavor and aroma and are typically found during the fall season. Matsutake mushrooms are white and can have either reddish-yellow or brown spots.
6. Shaggy Mane
- Scientific Name: Coprinus comatus
- Average Size: Caps are 1 1/3 to 2 inches wide and stalks are 2 to 8 inches tall.
- Habitat: Grassy areas.
These unusual mushrooms are named for their long, shaggy caps, which makes them easy to recognize. Their caps have a cylinder shape with a round top. Their liquefying, inky black gills are located underneath the cap. Shaggy manes are best eaten while they are tender and young.
7. Lobster Mushroom
- Scientific Name: Hypomyces lactifluorum
- Average Size: 3 to 6 inches tall.
- Habitat: Near hardwood and conifers trees.
The lobster mushroom is not your usual fungi. In fact, this is actually two different fungi, one of which is a parasitic fungus that grows on another fungus. Lobster mushrooms are bright red or orange, and have a seafood or “fishy” taste.
Toxic Mushrooms In California
While foraging for mushrooms in California can be an exciting adventure, there are dangers that you should take seriously. Accidentally consuming toxic mushrooms, such as the deadly death cap, can pose a serious and potentially deadly threat to your health. Therefore, it is crucial that you only consume mushrooms that you are certain are safe.
1. Death Cap
- Scientific Name: Amanita phalloides
- Average Size: Cap measures 2 to 5 inches in diameter.
- Habitat: Often found under oaks, birches, horse chestnuts, spruces, pines, and other hardwood trees.
The Death cap mushrooms are considered one of the deadliest fungi around. They have a white to cream-like color, and their caps can have a green or pinkish hue to them. Consuming these mushrooms can lead to kidney and liver damage, and may even be fatal.
2. Destroying Angel
- Scientific Name: Amanita ocreata
- Average Size: Caps are 1 1/2 to 5 inches in diameter.
- Habitat: Most commonly found growing on the edge woodland forests.
This toxic mushroom resembles the death cap, and is just as toxic. It is often found growing in wooded areas with plenty of oak trees. It has a white cap, and eating these mushrooms can lead to organ failure.
3. Inky Cap
- Scientific Name: Coprinopsis atramentaria
- Average Size: Caps measure 1 to a little over 3 inches in diameter.
- Habitat: Grows in urban and disturbed areas.
Inky caps are often found growing in clusters, and have a bell-shaped cap. They grow in disturbed and urban areas, and can often be found in grassy locations or on dead and rotting wood. While the inky cap mushroom isn’t lethal, they can cause adverse reactions if consumed with alcohol.
4. Western Panther Amanita
- Scientific Name: Amanita pantherinoides
- Average Size: Cap is about 2 1/2 inches in diameter.
- Habitat: Mostly common found in deciduous forests, but can also sometimes grow in coniferous woodlands.
The Western Panther Amanita contains a toxin that impacts the nervous system. It can cause seizures, hallucinations, and various other symptoms. When young, this toxic mushroom’s cap has a dome shape, but it will start to flatten as the fungi ages.
They are white and have a slight odor that smells similar to raw potatoes or radishes.
5. False Morel
- Scientific Name: Gyromitra spp.
- Average Size: 6 inches wide and up to 4 inches tall.
- Habitat: Wooded areas next to or near hardwood trees.
The False Morel can cause confusion because it looks so similar to true morels, which are much desired and edible. However, the False Morel is a bit larger than its safe-to-consume counterpart. But they do have the same iconic wrinkled cap that has a brain-like appearance.
6. Fly Agaric
- Scientific Name: Amanita muscaria
- Average Size: Caps can grow up to 8 inches in diameter and the stalk can reach heights of almost 12 inches.
- Habitat: Thrives in deciduous and conifer woodlands.
The Fly Agaric is a stunning mushroom with the iconic bright red cap and white spots. They are considered psychoactive mushrooms, which means they can cause nausea, hallucinations, and other negative effects if consumed.