Whether you’re a forager, researcher, or hobbyist, learning how to identify mushrooms can be incredibly fun and exciting. They grow all over the world, each showcasing distinct characteristics, and some containing psychoactive compounds like psilocin, baeocystin, and psilocybin.
With over 200 known varieties, psilocybin mushrooms in particular, are a unique part of the already vast and extraordinary Fungi Kingdom. Still, they can be easily confused with other poisonous varieties.
That’s why any form of mushroom hunting requires in-depth understanding and experience. While this guide on how to identify magic mushrooms will come in handy, you still need to do your own extensive research.
Read up on your local laws, learn about other fungi species, and get confident in your knowledge and skills before going mushroom spotting. The last thing you want is your adventure to turn into a nightmare, so be cautious and stay aware.
Now, let’s start your journey into the magical world of magic mushrooms with a few basics.
Identifying Psilocybin Mushrooms
While magic mushroom varieties are each in a unique class of their own, there are a few common identifiers. Broadly speaking, magic mushrooms have a golden-brownish color with stems of bluish flesh, particularly apparent when bruised. The blue typically indicates the presence of compounds like psilocin and psilocybin, although this isn’t always the case. Magic mushrooms are usually gilled, protected by a dark purple veil. It appears as a tiny, dark purple ring at the top of a broken stem.
Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms are one of the most common and well-known varieties around. They’re often used to create hybrid species and include crowd favorites like Golden Teachers. We go into more detail on these beauties below, but you’ll also learn about other popular magic mushroom species, such as:
Ready to discover the defining traits, natural habitats, and characteristics of psilocybe cubensis mushrooms and other prominent shroom species? Let’s jump in!
Also known as gold caps, golden halos, or cubes, psilocybe cubensis mushrooms enjoy widespread popularity for two reasons. They’re among the easiest psilocybin-containing mushrooms to cultivate and they also naturally occur in many parts of the world.
In 1906, mycologist Franklin Sumner Earle first described this particular variety in Cuba, naming it stropharia cubensis. Rolf Singer, another mycologist, moved the species to the psilocybe genus in 1949, and the name psilocybe (“bare head” in Greek) and cubensis (“coming from Cuba” in Greek) stuck.
In their book, Psilocybin: The Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide, Terrence and Dennis Mckenna praised psilocybe cubensis mushrooms. They spoke of the species’ easy-growing traits and moderate psilocybin potency. These dazzling insights helped cement the popularity of psilocybe cubensis—especially during the 1970s counterculture movement.
Besides Cuba, psilocybe cubensis mushrooms naturally occur in the south-eastern parts of the U.S., Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand. They’re also found in a host of countries across Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia.
Eating omelets stuffed with psilocybe cubensis mushrooms is a favorite pastime of locals and tourists in Thailand, where these shrooms grow naturally. Interestingly, they’re called “hed keequait” in Thai, meaning “mushroom which appears after water buffalo defecates.”
As unappetizing as that sounds, it’s rather accurate and a remarkable trait of psilocybe cubensis mushrooms. The spores are usually found on cow, horse, or buffalo dung—not because the wind carried them there. Instead, these spores often manage to be ingested with some grass or feed. They typically germinate inside the animal before coming out the other end, utilizing nutrients in the dung.
That said, it’s a common misconception that psilocybe cubensis mushrooms grow underneath manure—they don’t, not usually, anyway. They can also be found in sugar cane mulch and pasture soil.
As younglings, psilocybe cubensis mushrooms are a deep, reddish-brown color, akin to cinnamon. Their narrow, cone-shaped caps are unusually large with a central dark brown marking and grayish, spaced-out gills. Their stems are tinged with deep blue, which is more noticeable when bruised.
The mushroom cap expands wider and flatter as it grows. At maturity, psilocybe cubensis becomes a golden-brown color and turns a soft, yellowish-white shade in its older stages.
Keep in mind that psilocybe cubensis mushrooms come in countless varieties, so they won’t all look precisely the same.
With more than sixty (and counting) strains, the psilocybe cubensis genus is wide-ranging and diverse. It’s impossible to mention them all here, so we’ve covered a few crowd favorites.
Golden Teacher Mushrooms are at the top of our list. These tough organisms produce dark, purplish-brown spores. They’re famous for their massive, yellow-speckled golden caps and mild potency, offering a gentle psychedelic experience. Their thick, winding stems often showcase bluish colorations when handled.
As one of the best psilocybin mushroom strains for beginners, Golden Teacher spores are perfect for the amateur mycologist. Advanced researchers find them delightful, too.
Next, we have panaeolus cyanescens or Blue Meanie mushrooms. As their name suggests, these guys pack a mean punch. Their high levels of psilocybin are evident from their long, slender stems bruising greenish-blue.
The young caps are light brown and bell-shaped, becoming off-white or pastel gray and almost wavy at maturity. Blue Meanie spores are a deep purplish-black, known to produce a plentiful flush—even in harsh environments.
Mycologists of all creeds find Blue Meanies exceptional and fascinating. While the spores have a lot to offer in the wild, they’re equally as rewarding under the microscope.
Lastly, we have the powerfully-potent Penis Envy mushrooms. Their eyebrow-raising name is undoubtedly thanks to their shape—a wideset stem with a compact, curved cap. As younglings, the caps are golden-brown but turn pale yellow with maturity. Due to their unique shape, these psilocybe cubensis mushrooms don’t produce too many dark-purplish spores.
They’re also known to be somewhat fussy and difficult to produce due to their low spore count. For this reason, among others, Penis Envy spores are better suited to advanced researchers.
Now you know more about some world-class psilocybe cubensis mushroom strains. Ready to learn about a few prominent varieties, too?
Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms may be the most popular kind, but they’re by no means the only variety. Many native peoples in Mesoamerica and worldwide consider psilocybe mushrooms a sacrament or use them for healing, divination, and spiritual communion.
They fall under the psilocybe genus, which encompasses gilled mushrooms growing worldwide in various habitats and substrates. Most (but not all) psilocybe species contain the psychotropic compounds baeocystin, psilocin, and psilocybin.
The ones found in temperate climates seem to prefer growing in landscaped areas. In fact, they’re actually rarely seen in wild areas untouched by humankind. Contrary to popular belief, very few psilocybe species actually grow in animal dung. You’ll find most varieties in forest, mossy, and grassy humus soils.
Below, we take a closer look at how to identify magic mushrooms of the psilocybe azurescens, psilocybe semilanceata, psilocybe mexicana, psilocybe cyanescens, and psilocybe baeocystis varieties.
Lovingly known as flying saucer mushrooms, psilocybe azurescens shrooms have wide, flat, caramel to chestnut-colored caps when mature. Deep blackish-blue hues appear quickly after bruising, demonstrating above-average levels of psilocybin. Eventually, the caps fade to a pale, straw-like color when drying.
Their silky-white stems are thick, hollow-like, and curve slightly down with tufts of coarse white mycelium. On the underside of the cap, brown ascending gills contrast sharply with the white stems. The spores are dark, purplish brown-black.
Psilocybe azurescens is native to the U.S. West Coast, including parts of Oregon, New Mexico, California, and Ohio. It’s also been cultivated in the Netherlands, Germany, and New Zealand. Generally, fruiting begins at the end of September until late December or early January.
Flying saucer mushrooms typically grow in tight clusters along coastal dune grasses but also appear in decaying wood and wood chips. They enjoy sandy soils rich with wood debris, too. These shrooms also produce a dense mycelial mat and can cause wood to whiten, so keep your eyes peeled!
These potent magic mushrooms are commonly known as liberty caps but are sometimes called witches’ hats and blue legs, too. As one of the most widely distributed species in nature, they grow naturally worldwide, including in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
Psilocybe semilanceata prefers rich, acidic soil, thriving alone or in groups in grasslands, pastures, meadows, and lawns. It enjoys cooler temperate climates, growing abundantly in fall and spring.
Liberty cap mushrooms have either sharp and conical or bell-shaped caps that are elongated and slender, with dark, purplish-brown gills. Similarly, the spores are a deep, reddish-purple brown. At maturity, the cap edges tend to curl slightly upward. They change color according to hydration levels.
When moist, they’re pale to chestnut brown, with a darker center and a slight greenish-blue tinge. When dry, the caps turn a light, yellowy-brown color. The prominent papilla (the top of the cap that’s nipple-shaped) is another defining characteristic, along with the thin, yellowish-brown, tendril-like stem. Blue coloration appears quickly after bruising, particularly at the base of the stem.
Psilocybe mexicana is native to South and Central America, where its first recorded use was over 2,000 years ago. Considered sacred by the Aztecs, it was called “Teotlnanácatl” or “Flesh of the Gods.”
Similar in appearance to psilocybe semilanceata, these magic mushrooms have bell- or conical-shaped caps that are yellowish-brown to beige. They tend to expand as they age, resulting in a flatter appearance.
Bluish or greenish tones aren’t uncommon, but bruising the flesh brings out darker blue colorations. The gills are gray to purple-brown, producing dark violet-brown spores. Instead of curved stems, psilocybe mexicana stems are rather straight, thin, and fibrous, with a pale, yellowish color.
Psilocybe mexicana mushrooms flourish alone or in groups, typically amid grasslands, mossy roadsides, forests, meadows, and cornfields. They tend to grow no lower than 1,800-foot elevations and enjoy humid climates, fruiting in the tepid months of May to October. They occur naturally in Costa Rica, Mexico, and Guatemala.
Affectionately known as wavy caps, psilocybe cyanescens mushrooms have—you guessed it—wavy caps (when mature). They’re large, with caramel to dark chocolate colors at maturity. Initially, the gills are tan-brown before turning purple-brown with age. The spores are the same color.
These shrooms have relatively thick, off-white stems that are wider at the top. They’re covered with silvery fiber, and bluish-green hues appear when bruised.
Wavy cap mushrooms thrive on wood chips, wood debris, and mulched plant beds in urban areas. While they’re often found in clusters, they grow alone, too. Interestingly, they seem to prefer landscaped environments over natural habitats.
You’ll find these magic mushrooms growing in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, right towards the San Francisco Bay Area. They’re also prevalent in Central and Western Europe, New Zealand, and parts of West Asia. Fruiting depends on a drop in temperature and generally occurs in fall. Wavy cap mushrooms sometimes grow in massive numbers. Once, 100,000 fruits were found on a racetrack in South England.
Commonly referred to as blue bells or bottle cap mushrooms, psilocybe baeocystis naturally grows in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Some areas of New England are also home to these “knobby tops.” Growing from August to December, psilocybe baeocystis prefer high humidity and frequent rainfall.
They happily grow alone, but you’ll usually find them in clusters on wood chips, peat moss, and decaying conifer mulch. They also like mulched garden beds, where they hide out under rose bushes and other plants.
Blue bells mushrooms have small- to medium-sized cone-shaped caps that flatten out with age. The edges turn slightly inward, with distinct ripples akin to wavy caps. The coloration is also unique—dark olive-brown to sandstone brown. Blue tinges are also common, even without bruising. When bruised, shades of blue-green appear.
Bottle cap mushrooms have grayish to cinnamon brown gills and dark, purplish-brown spores. The stems are dirty white and slightly more yellowish at the apex. They’re almost brittle, with loose, silky fibers.
Learning how to identify magic mushrooms is a valuable skill that takes time and experience to master. But there’s more to it than appearances. The spores of these beauties are incredibly fascinating and have helped mycology become what it is today.
Each species of psilocybin mushroom has distinctly colored, shaped, and characterized spores. You can actually learn a lot just by studying them under your microscope!
So why not bolster your taxonomy skills and enhance your psilocybin mushroom knowledge?