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Mushroom misidentification can lead to serious health risks. Always ensure compliance with local foraging laws, including regulations in national and state parks and other government-managed areas.

12 Mushrooms in North Carolina (Pictures)

North Carolina is an intriguing state, rich in natural beauty and ecological diversity. It’s a place where the Atlantic coast meets the Appalachian Mountains, giving rise to a range of unique habitats. One of the most fascinating aspects of North Carolina’s natural bounty is its mushrooms. These captivating organisms grow in abundance across the state, thanks to the exceptional geography and climate conditions that favor their proliferation.

From the coastal plains to the highland forests, these fungi exhibit a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, each with their unique traits. Their allure extends beyond aesthetics, as they play a critical role in the ecosystem and offer a delightful challenge for mushroom foragers.

Whether you’re an amateur mycologist, an avid forager, or just someone who appreciates the natural world, the mushroom hunting adventure in North Carolina is an experience to cherish.

Where to find mushrooms in North Carolina

State parks and natural areas in North Carolina are often mushroom hotspots. These locations provide the right conditions for various species of mushrooms to thrive, making them ideal for foraging.

  • Pisgah National Forest: Located in the Appalachian Mountains, this sprawling forest offers a wide variety of mushrooms. Its moist, shaded undergrowth is a perfect environment for fungi.
  • Umstead State Park: Situated near Raleigh, this park provides a mix of forested trails and open spaces where mushrooms frequently appear.
  • Hanging Rock State Park: In the Sauratown Mountains, this park is known for its rich biodiversity, which includes numerous mushroom species.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, this park is another prime location for mushroom foragers due to its diverse ecosystem.

*Always check your local laws and regulations regarding foraging mushrooms in state and national parks. 

12 Mushrooms in North Carolina

Remember, when foraging for mushrooms, always respect nature and take care not to damage the environment. Also, it’s crucial to accurately identify mushrooms before consuming them, as some species can be toxic. With that in mind, here are 12 examples of mushroom species you can find in NC. 

1. Common chanterelle

Chanterelle
Chanterelle | image by Björn S… via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific name: Cantharellus cibarius
  • Average size: 3 – 10 cm
  • Color: yellow-orange
  • Can be found: coniferous forests in mossy areas
  • Edible: Yes

The common chanterelle is a well-liked and highly valued edible mushroom in North America that you can also find in the state. This delicious mushroom is a mycorrhizal fungus that forms symbiotic relationships with the roots of specific trees. 

It’s renowned for its fruity aroma and a taste that’s both nutty and peppery. They’re recognizable by their trumpet-like shape and yellow-orange color, making them a popular find for foragers and mushroom enthusiasts alike.

2. Cauliflower

Cauliflower fungus 
Cauliflower fungus  | image by Björn S… via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific name: Sparassis crispa
  • Average size: up to 60 cm in diameter
  • Color: cream, light yellow, brown
  • Can be found: conifer stumps or small rounds buried in soil  
  • Edible: Yes

The cauliflower fungus has a distinct look that’s similar to that of a cauliflower head. This mushroom is also highly valued in Japanese cooking, where it’s called “hanabiratake.”

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During the summer and fall seasons in North Carolina, you can find them growing on the roots of hardwood trees, particularly oaks, and hickories. They have a cream to brown color and a delicate, soft texture when cooked. 

3. Comb Tooth 

Comb tooth fungus 
Comb tooth fungus  | image by Morgan Cantrell via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Hericium ramosum
  • Average size: up to 35 cm in diameter
  • Color: white 
  • Can be found: fallen logs or branches of hardwoods
  • Edible: Yes

The Comb tooth, also known as the coral spine fungus, is a type of fall-growing mushroom that can be seen on dead oak and other hardwood trees. It looks like coral, but it also has structures that look like the teeth on a comb, which is how it got its name.

When it’s still young and tender, it has a color that ranges from white to a very light yellow, and it can be eaten. But as the fungus matures, it becomes sour and bitter. 

4. Indigo Milkcap

Indigo milkcap mushroom
Indigo milkcap mushroom | image by Eddee (ravenhawkdr) via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Scientific name: Lactarius indigo
  • Average size: 5 to 15 cm 
  • Color: indigo blue to silvery-blue
  • Can be found: ground of deciduous and coniferous forests
  • Edible: Yes

The Indigo Milkcap is a type of mushroom that produces a bright blue liquid when it‘s cut or broken. During late summer and early fall, it’s commonly found growing alongside hardwood trees, especially oak and pine trees.

The cap is convex, and the fungus itself has a deep blue to purple color. It also has a mix of sweet, nutty, and peppery flavors that are often used in cooking. 

5. Lion’s mane 

Lion’s mane
Lion’s mane | image by candiru via Flickr
  • Scientific name: Hericium erinaceus
  • Average size: 10 – 25 cm
  • Color: white
  • Can be found: wood of dead or dying deciduous trees
  • Edible: Yes

The Lion’s mane, also called the bearded tooth, has been utilized in traditional Chinese medicine for its medicinal properties to enhance cognitive function and overall health. This species can be found in various habitats, such as forests, and is recognized for its shaggy appearance that resembles a lion’s mane. The mushroom is pale or white in color and has a flavor that’s comparable to seafood. 

6. Black Trumpet

Black trumpet mushrooms
Black trumpet mushrooms | image by Marco Bertolini via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Craterellus cornucopioides
  • Average size: 2 to 15 cm in diameter
  • Color: gray to black to tan
  • Can be found: mossy forest floors
  • Edible: Yes

The black trumpet, also referred to as the “horn of plenty,” is a popular choice for mushroom hunters in North Carolina. The trumpet-shaped mushrooms are delicate and have a unique smoky and nutty flavor, which is why they’re highly valued as an ingredient in gourmet cuisine.

Black trumpets typically grow in groups on the ground in the mossy, rocky hillsides of deciduous forests and range in color from gray to black. 

7. Morel 

Yellow morel
Yellow morel | image by GLJIVARSKO DRUSTVO NIS via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Morchella esculenta
  • Average size: 2 to 7 cm in diameter
  • Color: light cream to gray to yellowish-brown
  • Can be found: moist woodlands and in river bottoms
  • Edible: Yes
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Morels are also a known fungi in North Carolina, not just for their delectable taste, but also for their unique appearance. These mushrooms are commonly found in deciduous forests and near riverbeds in the state.

Morels are characterized by a cone-shaped cap, a spongy texture resembling a honeycomb, and a range of colors from yellow to brown. In the culinary world, they’re considered a delicacy and are usually harvested during spring.

8. Hedgehog 

Sweet tooth mushroom 
Sweet tooth mushroom  | image by Dr. Hans-Günter Wagner via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific name: Hydnum repandum
  • Average size: 6 – 15 cm in diameter
  • Color: pale cream to creamy orange  
  • Can be found: coniferous, mixed and broad-leaved woodlands  
  • Edible: Yes

The hedgehog is a charming and delicious species found in North Carolina. They get their name from the spiny tooth-like structures on the underside of their caps.

These fungi can be found in mixed woods, usually growing in groups or singly on the ground, and are in season from late summer to early fall. Hedgehogs come in various shades of beige to brown and have a convex cap with a velvety texture. 

9. Lobster

Lobster mushroom  
Lobster mushroom | image by Under the same moon… via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Hypomyces lactifluorum
  • Average size: 15 to 20 cm in diameter
  • Color: bright orange-red
  • Can be found: conifer forests
  • Edible: Yes

The Lobster mushroom is a peculiar fungus that’s actually a parasitic sac fungus that grows on other mushrooms, primarily Russulas. It’s bright orange-red exterior and white flesh make it look and taste like lobster meat when cooked.

Conifer forests are where foragers can find this mushroom in the fall. Before consuming these mushrooms, however, foragers should exercise caution and confirm the type of host they have. 

10. Chicken-of-the-woods

Chicken of the woods
Chicken-of-the-woods | image by pete beard via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Laetiporus sulphureus
  • Average size: 5 to 31 cm 
  • Color: orange and white
  • Can be found: deciduous hardwoods like oaks, ash, elm, and hickory
  • Edible: Yes

The Chicken-of-the-woods, also known as Sulphur Shelf, is a species that has been used as a vegetarian alternative to chicken in recipes due to its meaty texture and savory flavor. They grow on tree trunks or stumps, especially on oak, ash, elm, and hickory trees.

These mushrooms have fan-shaped caps that range from bright yellow to orange, making them easy to identify. Additionally, chicken-of-the-woods can grow to be quite large. 

11. Maitake  

Hen of the woods mushroom
Hen-of-the-woods mushroom | image by Eric Huybrechts via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Scientific name: Grifola frondosa
  • Average size: 2 to 7 cm in diameter
  • Color: dark gray to brown
  • Can be found: base of oak trees
  • Edible: Yes

Because of their mouthwatering flavor and distinctive appearance, maitake, also referred to as hen-of-the-woods, is one of the most popular mushrooms in North Carolina. It has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine and is also thought to have medicinal qualities. 

Maitake has a brownish-gray cap with ruffled edges and a stem that connects to a central base, and it grows in groups on the ground near the bases of oak trees. 

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12. Beefsteak

Beefsteak mushroom
Beefsteak mushroom | image by Björn S… via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific name: Fistulina hepatica
  • Average size: 10 – 25 cm  
  • Color: pinkish-red 
  • Can be found: trunks of oak trees and sometimes on recently-cut oak stumps 
  • Edible: Yes

The Beefsteak fungus is a mushroom with a distinctive appearance, characterized by its vibrant red hue and resemblance to a piece of uncooked meat. When it’s young, it’s edible and has a squishy texture similar to that of a liver.

Additionally, it has a sour and acidic taste. During late summer and early fall, it’s possible to find it growing on dead trees and logs in North Carolina.