Identifying Fungi
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Introduction
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Identifying fungi is one of the most difficult and frustrating things about this hobby. I spend more time trying to track down names for the fungi I have photographed then I spend time in the bush photographing them.

There are now more resources available both on the net and in book form then available when I first started. Although many of these books are now out of print and New Zealand's National Fungal Herbarium (PDD) web site is only useful once you have a name to look up.
 
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The Puzzle
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I liken the identification of fungi to that of trying to do a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces turned upside down. Only by collecting enough bits of information about a fungus can you turn over enough pieces of the puzzle to complete it and therefore name the fungus.

Unfortunately at the start its difficult to tell which bit of information is going to be useful to solve the puzzle as different species have different key pieces that need to be known.
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Note taking
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The first few puzzle pieces are the easiest to turn over and that is to collect field notes the minimum things to record are:

Image Number:Or some other method of keeping track which notes belong to which photo.
Date, Time:Digital camera recorded this information with the image including the camera settings.
Location:Forest or bush found in or urban location.
Weather :Is it wet has there been any rain in the past week.
Substrate:Is it growing on wood, earth, moss etc.
Association:Forest type what trees are near by.
Colour Cap:This can change as the fungus dries
Colour Stalk:Also changes on drying but also bruising can accrue.
 
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1. Microscope
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Unfortunately if you don't have a microscope then many important puzzle pieces cannot be turned over. As there are many species that cannot be told apart without looking at their microscopic detail. The club and coral fungi are typical of this group these two below even thou they are of similar colour, size and form are not only different species but also belong to two different family's.

Ramariopsis simplex

Clavaria archer
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2. Alternatives
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With out a microscope you have few choose but to look at other photos and see if you can recognise one that looks the same as yours. This is not always very successful as many fungi can look quite different yet still be the same species particularly when it comes to colour.

Mycena parsonsii

Mycena parsonsii
 
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Books
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Its unfortunate that New Zealand does not have any comprehensive field guide with so many of our fungi been natives it creates a real problem when it comes to identifications. A few of the books presently available or worth finding are:

Forest Fungi Field guide
Available through this website
Consisting of the main photos from this website.
Mushrooms and Other Fungi of
NZ

Touchwood Books
Only a limited number of species illustrated.
Photographic Guide to Mushrooms and Other Fungi of NZ
Touchwood Books
As above limited number of species illustrated and described.
The Fungi of New Zealand Series
Manaaki Whenua Press
Expensive, Each book only covers a small group of fungi.
Mushrooms and Toadstools
by Marie Taylor

Trade Me
Out of print but worth tracking down a second hand copy.

There is also a number of other NZ Books most of which are out of print but can be usefully and worth the trouble to locate a second hand copy.
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Web sites
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There are also a number of New Zealand website's besides this one that have large collections of NZ fungi photos. Keeping in mind this is the internet and not everything you see will be correct.
Exploring the Kaimai Bush
All About Mushrooms
 
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Keys
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Several website's have simple keys that help to eliminate many fungi from the possible but do require you to know the spore colour e.g.. make a spore print.
Forest Fungi
NZ's Virtual Mycota
 
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Overseas
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Its also possible to use both books and website from over seas but this is not always so reliable. Although it can help to get to genus level with your identification you are just as likely to end up with a northern hemisphere name for a similar looking fungi. 
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Checking Names
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It is also a good idea to use our National Fungal Herbarium website to check you have not only the latest name but weather your species has been found in NZ before.

Interpreting what you find on this site can be a problem if you do not know who the mycologist are, there field of expertise and country of origin. Its unfortunate but even the experts make mistakes.
 
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3. Finding some else
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Alternatively find some one else who may recognise it for you this to is not always very successful as most mycologist do not like identifying fungi from a photo. They like me can only give a best guess unless you have something to look as under a microscope. Try to supply as much information as possible about the fungus and its habitat.  
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Collections
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If you have permission from the land owner it is always a good practice to take a collection home this saves having to make extensive notes out in the field. Other wise details of macro fetchers also need to be made. 
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Describing
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Describing a fungus is as much an art form then anything and is something that I have tried to avoid but a good description will go a long way in helping to find a name. Things to record are:

Cap: size, shape, colour, surface texture and moisture.
Gills: colour, attachment, spacing.
Stem: size, shape, colour, surface texture and moisture.
Partial veil: (ring or covering over gills): presence or absence, form. 
Universal veil:
presence or absence, form.
Flesh: colour, texture, bruising.
Odour and taste: Don't poison your self!!
Spore colour: Obtained by making a spore print
Describing fungi
Fungi Map

Fungi Bank
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Drying
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If you wish to preserve your collection then its normal to dry them. The easy way is to use a food dehydrator if it has a temperature setting then use the lowest setting possible so the DNA is not damaged. Once dried cycle them into the freezer for three or so days every once and awhile to insure they do not become infested with bugs.  
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