Ohio is a largely forested state that captures the transition from a subtropical to a temperate climate, meaning that what species (pf animals, plants, or mushrooms) you can see in the state might have a great deal to do with where in the state you are. Overall, there are over 2000 species of fungus known in the state, though only a few are known to produce edible mushrooms (most produce fruiting bodies that are either too small to eat or have not yet been evaluated for edibility. Only a few are known to be poisonous)[i]. Mushroom-hunting is a popular activity in Ohio, but while some public lands are open to mushroom-hunting (within certain limits), others are not[ii].
Here is a small sampling of Mushrooms in Ohio.
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Edible Wild Mushrooms in Ohio
Most of Ohio’s edible mushrooms fruit in the spring, usually some time from mid-April through the end of May, but there are exceptions.
The shaggy mane[iii] looks a bit like a closed umbrella in shape, with a long, narrow cap. The upper surface is covered in large, soft scales, hence the “shaggy,” unlike this species close relative and look-alike, The Ink Cap. These mushrooms do a curious thing when they are ready to release their spores; rather than letting the spores blow away as a powder, the mushroom liquefies, turning into a black, spore-filled goo. The transformation into goo is gradual, starting with the edge of the cap and then proceeding upward and inward. And yet the mushroom is edible, with a subtle, earthy flavor that pairs well with chicken or rice. Even the goo makes an interesting black food-dye.
There are two caveats. First, Coprinus species cause reactions to alcohol. It’s best to not only not have alcohol with a Coprinus meal but to abstain from alcohol for two days afterwards. Second, anyone thinking of harvesting these mushrooms should know they won’t keep. Even in the refrigerator, they will turn to goo in less than a day.
“Shaggy parasol” is a common name applied to multiple closely-related species, all of which have thick, fleshy scales on the top of the cap. C. rhacodes (often misspelled “rachodes”) reportedly tastes delicious. It has white spores. One of its relatives, C. molybdites (the false parasol, though it, too, is sometimes called the shaggy), may also be tasty, but usually makes tasters very sick. It has green spores. A third species, C. brunneum, is generally classed as an edible but also makes some people sick. It has white spores that sometimes become green. There may be still other species not yet identified. Not only do poisonous and edible species thus share a common name, but the definitions (and spellings) of these species appear confused, at least for some writers, and possibly some mycologists as well.
Morels are a group of highly-prized edible species, all sharing a tall, narrow cap with a pitted, honeycomb-like surface. It’s fairly easy to recognize that a mushroom is a morel—they could be confused with false morels, early morels, or even certain stinkhorns, but a careful look will resolve the confusion. What’s harder is determining which species of morel the mushroom belongs to. Several morel species are highly variable, while others are close look-alikes. Common names and scientific names often don’t correspond to each other.
Morels are often described as very safe for foragers, a distinctive-looking group whose members are all edible—even delicious. Actually, morels do sometimes contain the same toxins false morels do, and have caused illness The difference is that morel poisonings are rare.
The meadow mushroom[iv] is essentially the wild equivalent of the cultivated white button (and the closely-related crimini/portobello). It is white or whitish with pink gills that turn dark brown with age. The white color makes confusion with the destroying angels all too possible, though the gills of the destroying angels are white.
Jack[v] is a wide-spread species of ringed bolete, with a cap that indeed gets slippery when damp. He’s not prized as a dinner companion, but is certainly welcome at many tables, as he seldom sickens the other guests. Removing the skin on the surface of the cap may lessen the chance of the rare bad reaction.
Psychedelic Magic Mushrooms in Ohio
Possession or use of psychedelic mushrooms has been legalized or at least decriminalized in some places, but Ohio is not one of those places. Even possession of spores is now illegal. At least ten “active” species grow wild in Ohio, though, and definitely tempt some people[vi]. The same warnings about proper identification apply to these species as to culinary mushrooms—some “active” species have poisonous, even deadly look-alikes.
The genus, Gymnopilus, known for its rusty-colored spores, mostly brownish or orangish mushrooms, and its fondness for wood, has about 200 species world-wide. Only 14 of these are “active,” but at least three out of the 14 grow in Ohio. “Gyms,” as they are sometimes known, contain psilocybin, but may contain another psychotropic substance as well, since users report a qualitative difference between the high of a gym and that of a Psilocybe.
The Blue Gym, G. aeruginosus [vii], is usually dull yellow with blue or blue-green stains. It is considered moderately potent, but is rarely used and not well-known. The Yellow Gym, G. luteofolius [viii], is yellow to orange, getting rusty with age. It is not often used, possibly because it is so very bitter in taste, so its potency, which may be low, is not well-known. G. luteus [ix] is part of a group of species split off from or associated with G. junonius, the well-known big laughing gym, but finding information about G. luteus itself is difficult.
Members of this genus[x] are called mottlegills because their gills have dark spots owing to the fact that the spores don’t all develop (and darken) at the same time but instead in patches. Only a minority of the mottlegills are psychedelic, and these are separated out in their own genus, Copelandia, by some authorities. The banded mottlegill[xi] is mostly light brown or sometimes bluish. The outer margin of the cap is a notably different shade, hence the name, “banded.” It likes horse dung or decomposing grass, such as old hay, and has been widely spread around on compost.
This genus[xii] is perhaps better known for its edible species, such as the Deer Mushroom, but it does have some “active” members, at least one of which is native to Ohio. P. americanus[xiii] is mostly pinkish gray-brown and can stain blue, though it doesn’t always. Potency seems low, although since the mushroom is rarely used, there are few trip reports to go from. P. saupei may also be present, but is not well-known. Not much information on it is available.
Psilocybe includes some of the most famous “magic” mushrooms, including the widely-cultivated P. cubensis. However, “cubes” don’t grow wild in Ohio. Two other Psilocybes do. P. caerulipes[xiv], or blue-foot, is a small, brown mushroom that stains blue (often subtly or slowly) when handled. Though it is wide-spread, it’s also rare. Potency is variable, but generally moderate[xv]. P. ovoideocystidiata, also called blue-foot, is quite similar but larger. Its range seems to be expanding[xvi]. Both species are frightening easy to mix up with the aptly-named Deadly Galerina.
This mushroom is biochemically very different from most magic mushrooms, as it contains no psilocybin. Besides its own psychedelic substance, the species also contains a toxin that must be deactivated by proper processing before use. Trips are described as less visual, more mental, and more sedative than psilocybe trips.
Poisonous Mushrooms in Ohio
There is no simple way to avoid poisonous mushrooms (other than not eating any mushrooms at all, which seems a pity). There is no sign or characteristic that all poisonous species have and that no edible ones do. People who think such a rule if thumb exists and attempt to follow it when foraging for mushrooms sometimes end up dead. The only solution is to learn to identify mushrooms properly down to species—both the edible species you want to gather and the poisonous ones you might otherwise gather by accident.
The following list of poisonous species is only introductory. There are many others out there.
Destroying Angel (Amanita sp.)
Several species in Ohio go by the name of destroying angel, most notably Amanita Bisporigera. Most people have no need to tell them apart, as they all look pretty much the same and all of them will almost certainly kill anyone who takes a few bites. The toxin takes a while to get to work, which complicates diagnosis and may further delay treatment—sufferers may not realize that their symptoms could have anything to do with that mushroom they ate a day or so earlier.
No one is likely to eat something called a “destroying angel” on purpose, but the handsome, white mushrooms can be confused with several edible species. The early “egg” stage, when the young mushroom is entirely enclosed by a thick membrane, looks very much like an edible puffball, until it is sliced open.
False morels, on the other hand, are often eaten on purpose. Some species are both popular edibles and known toxics—the problem is that they are not always toxic, and the poison can be cumulative, meaning that a person can get seriously ill or even die after years of apparently safe eating. Some people insist that these mushrooms are essentially edible if prepared properly, and that only people with unusual sensitivity, or people who ate improperly-prepared material get sick. Others insist that false morels are dangerous, and that only the unusually lucky get away with eating them long-term.
As the name implies, false morels could also be mistaken for morels. There are a number of differences between the two groups, but the most obvious is that the caps of morels are pitted, rather like honeycomb, whereas the caps of false morels are wrinkled. Some examples of False Morels are Gyromitra esculenta, Gyromitra caroliniana, Gyromitra gigas and Verpa bohemica.
Jack O’Lantern is famous for two things: the gills glow in the dark, faintly; and the whole mushroom is a toxic look-alike of the Golden Chanterelle. Actually, the two don’t look much alike. Golden chants are yellow and have ridges, whereas Jack O’Lanterns are orange and have gills. But perhaps such is the reputation of chants that people engage in wishful thinking. Whatever the reason, the mistake occurs. Eating Jack O’Lantern probably won’t kill you, but it’s not fun.
The false parasol is well-known as the toxic look-alike of several shaggy-parasol species. More accurately, though, the group includes a range of toxicity, with multiple members being sometimes safely edible, other times sickening. This species is toxic more often than not and is just best avoided.
[v] (n.d.). Suilus luteus (L.) Roussel—Slippery Jack
[viii] (n.d.). Gymnopilus luteofolius. Philosophy
[ix] Kuo, M. (2012). Gymnopilus luteus. MushroomExpert
[xi] (n.d.). Panaeolus cunctulus. Philosophy
[xii] Kuo, M. (2015). The Genus Pluteus. MushroomExpert
[xiii] Kuo, M. (2016). Pluteus americanus. MushroomExpert
[xiv] (n.d.). Psilocybe caerulipes. Philosophy
[xvi] Roderick (2019). Psilocybe ovoideocystidiata. Psillow