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 than I spend time in the bush photographing them.
There are now far more resources available online and in books than when I first started. Many of the books are now out of print and New Zealand's National Fungal Herbarium (PDD) website
is only useful once you have a name to look up.
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.
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.
Unfortunately, if you don't have a microscope, many important puzzle pieces cannot be turned over. As there are many species that cannot be told apart without looking at their microscopic details, the club and coral fungi are typical of this group. The two below, even though they are of similar colour, size and form, are not only different species but also belong to two different families.
Without a microscope, you have few choices 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.
It's unfortunate that New Zealand does not have any reliable and comprehensive field guides with so many of our native fungi. It creates a real problem when it comes to identification. A few of the books presently available or worth finding are:
Forest Fungi Photo Guide: Available through this website, consisting of the main photos from this website.
Mushrooms and Other Fungi of NZ: Only a limited number of species are illustrated.
Photographic Guide to Mushrooms and Other Fungi of NZ: As above, a limited number of species are illustrated and described.
The Fungi of New Zealand Series: is expensive. Each book only covers a small group of fungi.
Mushrooms and Toadstools: by Marie Taylor Trade Me Out of print but still worth tracking down a second hand copy.
There are also a number of other NZ books, most of which are out of print but can be useful and worth the trouble of locating a second hand copy.
It is also a good idea to use our National Fungal Herbarium website to check you have not only the latest name but whether 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 mycologists are, their field of expertise, and their country of origin. It's unfortunate, but even the experts make mistakes.
Alternatively, find someone else who may recognise it for you. This is not always very successful as most mycologists do not like identifying fungi from photos. They, like me, can only give a best guess unless you have something to look at under a microscope. Try to supply as much information as possible about the fungus and its habitat.
If you have permission from the land owner, it is always good practise to take a collection home. This saves you from having to make extensive notes out in the field. Other than that, details of macro fetchers must be made.
Describing a fungus is as much an art form as 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.
Stipe: 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 yourself!!
Spore colour: Obtained by making a spore print
If you wish to preserve your collection, then it's 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, place them in the freezer for three to four days every now and then to prevent bug infestation.