What Are the Mushrooms that Grow in My Yard? Types and How to Identify

shaggy parasol
© Stephan Morris/Shutterstock.com

Written by Cammi Morgan

Published: May 9, 2023

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Do you have mushrooms growing in your yard? Curious about what kind might be growing and the ecological roles they play in your environment? Well, in temperate North America, there are a number of species that might call your yard home.

In this guide, we’ll cover three common species of yard-growing mushrooms, how to identify them, and also provide some foundational information on mushroom identification.

Read on to learn more!

Are the Mushrooms in Your Yard Safe?

Mushrooms from foraging in wicker basket

Woman with mushrooms from foraging in a wicker basket.

©iStock.com/dolgachov

When mushrooms start popping up in your yard, your first reaction might be to fear that they’re poisonous. You might be especially worried about this if you have young children or pets. Some species of yard-growing mushrooms are poisonous to some extent and a handful are even deadly poisonous. Many more, however, aren’t poisonous, or will only cause minor gastrointestinal upset upon ingestion. Some are even quite delicious to eat.

Contrary to what some info on the internet may claim, there’s no one definitive sign that a mushroom is or isn’t poisonous. You have to be able to identify the species or at least the genus in some cases for confirmation.

If you’re worried about what species is growing, learning how to identify some common North American species that grow in yard-type environments can be super helpful for helping narrow down possibilities. Additionally, bringing in a mycologist, sending the mushroom off to a lab for ID, and browsing reputable mycological sites and forums can also help.

While this guide isn’t intended to provide absolute confirmation of what species you have growing in your yard, our below info can help you learn some things to look for and take note of when practicing ID to an order, family, genus, or species level.

Foundational Tips for Identifying Mushrooms in Your Yard

When practicing mushroom identification, you’ll want to think about (and ideally write down the answers to) the following questions:

  • What month is it?
  • Is the growing location sunny or in the shade?
  • What is the mushroom growing from? Examples: from the soil near trees, on a living tree, on leaf litter or similar lawn debris (may appear to be growing soil, but isn’t), from manure, or on deadwood such as logs or stumps.
  • If it’s growing from a tree or near a tree, do you know what species?
  • Is the mushroom growing alone, in a scattered group, or in dense clusters?

Morphological Features

Once you answer these questions, it’s time to start looking at the morphological features of the mushroom. Below is a non-exhaustive list of morphological features to look for:

  • What is the overall structure of the mushroom? Examples: cap and stem (aka stipe), semi-circle shape with no discernable stipe (bracket fungi), jelly-like, coral-shaped, ball-shaped, conical.
  • Look at the underside of the mushroom: does it contain gills (thin, delicate slits), pores (tiny openings), teeth (looks shaggy or toothy), or appear smooth?
  • Does the mushroom contain a partial veil or remnants of a partial veil? This is a thin, membranous structure that covers the gills when the mushroom is young and leaves a membranous ring around the upper portion of the stipe after the cap expands.
  • What is the color of the mushroom, including the cap, flesh, underside, and stipe (if present)?
  • If the mushrooms contain gills, does a milky substance secrete when the gills are pressed?
  • Does the flesh of the mushroom change color when bruised or cut?
  • Are the gills delicate, easily detached from the rest of the mushroom, and moveable when you brush your thumb across them (true gills)? Or are they rubbery, ridge-like, and don’t move when stroked (false gills)?
  • Is the cap sticky, slimy, dry, tacky, scaly, fuzzy, contain remnants of a membranous veil, or covered in hairs?
  • If it’s a cap and stipe mushroom, does the stipe snap like chalk from the cap?
  • Does the mushroom feel spongy, rubbery, soft, gelatinous, or brittle?
  • If you unearth the mushroom, does it contain a bulb-like structure at the base of the stipe (a volva)?
  • If there are several mushrooms at various stages of development, do you notice an egg-like structure covered in a thin membranous veil? An example we’ll delve into later is an immature amanita “egg” covered in a universal veil.
  • What does the mushroom smell like? Common scents described include anise, almond, licorice, phenolic, fishy, earthy, and fruity.

Bottomline of ID Tips

Remember, these are just some of the characteristics to note when attempting to identify a mushroom. But, answering these questions can help if you’re consulting an up to date mycological textbook or a trusted website that contains expert information on species identification. As you can see, though, there’s quite a bit involved in accurately identifying a mushroom. So if you really need to know what species you have growing in your yard, and you haven’t developed robust IDing skills, your best bet is to call in an expert.

3 Common North American Yard Mushrooms

Below, we’ll cover the identifying features and toxicity status of the following three common North American mushrooms that can grow in yards:

  1. The Shaggy Inky Cap (Coprinus comatus)
  2. Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor)
  3. The Death Cap Mushroom (Amanita phalloides)

1. The Shaggy Inky Cap (Coprinus comatus)

Shaggy Mane Mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) growing in a field near trees

Shaggy Mane Mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) growing in a field near trees

©UKSTUDIO/Shutterstock.com

If you’ve ever seen a mushroom with black liquid dripping from the margins of a tattered cap, you’ve had the delight of stumbling across an inky cap mushroom. These awesome, weird mushrooms enhance their chances of successful spore dispersal through a process of auto-digestion known as deliquescence. The shaggy inky cap mushroom, Coprinus comatus, is one such juicy mushroom that inhabits roadsides, edges of forests, meadows, and yards across North America. Specifically, they tend to appear after a rainstorm from summer through fall.

As its common name suggests, the shaggy inky cap features a white conical (when young) cap covered in shaggy scales. As the mushroom matures, the margins lift and expand into a bell shape. Upon maturity, the process of deliquescence begins in which the mushroom begins to break itself down, through the production of hydrolytic enzymes (specifically chitinase) from the bottom of the cap upwards. Mycologists currently believe the benefit of this process is the ease of spore dispersal. As the cap begins dissolving, it peels up and away from the gills, allowing the mature spores to have a better chance of successfully dispersing out on the wind currents.

The entire life cycle of this mushroom, from just beginning to fruit to auto digestion and spore dispersal, can resolve within as little as 24 hours. It’s a fascinating process to watch if you’re lucky enough to come across it.

Toxicity Status

This mushroom is actually a choice edible when young. If the mushroom is still all white and isn’t showing signs of auto-digestion, then it’s good to eat. You should always have 100% confirmation of a species by an expert source before consuming a wild mushroom.

Ecological Role

This mushroom is saprobic, meaning it derives its nutrients from decaying organic matter. In the case of the shaggy mane inky cap, it grows from material such as wood chips, leaf litter, and lawn thatch. As decomposers, these mushrooms contribute to vital nutrient recycling that is essential to the health of our environment.

Identifying Features

  • White, shaggy conical cap when young, expanding to a bell shape and darkening to blue-black with age.
  • When mature, the cap begins to auto-digest from the bottom up. Look for black liquid and a blue-black cap with ragged margins, or that is partially or nearly liquified.
  • The stipe typically measures 2-8 inches tall.
  • The cap, depending on maturity and state of auto-digestion, can measure from 1-6 inches tall.
  • The gills are quite crowded and free from the stipe. This means that, underneath the cap, there’s a small space between where the cap meets the stipe, and where the gills begin.
  • When young, the flesh should be white and soft.

2. Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor)

A turkey-tail mushroom growing from the side of a moss-covered tree trunk

A turkey-tail mushroom growing from the side of a moss-covered tree trunk

©Slobodan Cvetkovic/Shutterstock.com

The next mushroom on our list is one of the most common mushrooms in North America, and also one of the most heavily studied for potential medicinal uses. The turkey tail mushroom is quite lovely and fairly achievable to identify once you have the main features down. There are a few lookalikes, however, such as the aptly named false turkey tail, Stereum spp.

Toxicity Status

This mushroom is generally considered safe to ingest but isn’t palatable due to its tough texture. Instead, folks tend to take this mushroom as a tea, tincture, or in supplement form. There exists a plethora of studies on the potential and documented medicinal uses of Trametes versicolor. For example, one systematic review of 28 studies that included in vitro, nonrandomized controlled trials, and preclinical studies found that polysaccharide K (PSK), derived from the turkey tail mushroom, in conjunction with standard radiation and chemotherapy, improved immune function, reduced tumor-associated symptoms, and extended survival rates in lung cancer patients. Another study found that a liquid culture extract of turkey tail mushroom demonstrated significant antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, both of which are resistant to several standard antibiotics.

Ecological Role

Turkey tail mushrooms are wood-decayers. Specifically, this mushroom is a white-rot fungus, meaning it is capable of decomposing all cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin found in wood. As white-rot fungi, turkey tail mushrooms contribute to both nutrient recycling and crucial carbon sequestering. This mushroom is saprobic on the deadwood of hardwood logs and stumps, and very rarely on conifers. If you have a hardwood stump or log in your yard in North America, it’s highly possible that you will see turkey tail mushrooms grow from it. They occur year-round.

Identifying Features

There are a number of other Trametes species and bracket fungi that you could mistake Trametes veriscolor for. Below, we’ll cover some crucial-to-know identifying features to help you distinguish this species from lookalikes:

  • First, if you see a small bracket fungus (likely growing in clusters) that you think may be turkey tail, check the underside. Underneath, you should see a lot of tiny, but not undetectable, pores. If you don’t see these small openings covering the underside, or if you see something that looks like teeth, you don’t have turkey tail mushrooms.
  • When young, the underside of the cap is white, turning pale brown as it matures.
  • Now, check the cap. How does it feel? True turkey tail has a fuzzy or velvety feeling to the cap. The cap should also have varying degrees of lobing to the margins and ranges from .75-3 inches across.
  • The color of the cap can vary among specimens of turkey tail. Some caps take on a blue-grey hue, while others look more orange-red, and others still look more pale blue-brown. However, across the board, you should see distinct color banding that is quite stunning on the caps. An orange-red cap, for instance, should have distinct bands and shades of brown, orange, red, and usually a strip of white along the margin.
  • Finally, the fresh mushroom should feel thin and flexible. You should be able to bend this mushroom without snapping it when fresh.

3. The Death Cap Mushroom (Amanita phalloides)

Amanita phalloides

Amanita phalloides, poisonous ang dangerous mushroom, commonly known as the death cap

©Adrian_am13/Shutterstock.com

The final mushroom on our list is the death cap mushroom, Amanita phalloides. If your yard or neighbor’s yard doesn’t have oak trees, you likely don’t need to worry about this mushroom popping up. If there are oaks nearby, however, it can be useful to know how to identify the death cap.

Toxicity Status

As its common name suggests, Amanita phalloides is a deadly poisonous mushroom. The liver and kidney toxins that exist in this species, amatoxins, are responsible for 90% of mushroom-related deaths of humans worldwide. Only a very small amount of the mushroom, a little more than 1 ounce, contains enough amatoxins to kill an adult human. Current treatment for ingestion of Amanita phalloides involves intensive supportive care at a hospital, possibly an infusion of intravenous silibinin, and a liver transplant if necessary.

Ecological Role

Amanita phalloides, which is distributed across North America, is mycorrhizal with various species of oak trees. This means that the death cap mushrooms form a mutually beneficial plant-fungi nutrient exchange with oak trees, in which the mycelium of the death cap provides essential nutrients to the roots of the oak, in exchange for sugar and carbon. So, while the death cap may seem like a menace, this species is a crucial part of our ecosystem and helps many species of oaks thrive. If you aren’t worried about accidental ingestion of this mushroom by young children or pets, it’s best to let this mushroom grow in your yard. If you are concerned about ingestion, you can pluck the fruiting bodies as you see them appear. However, it’s a largely useless and likely harmful endeavor to try to eradicate Amanita phalloides mycelium from your yard.

Identifying Features

  • Note that when these mushrooms first emerge, they look like a white egg. These amanita eggs are covered by a universal veil. This membranous, white veil protects the forming mushroom. When ready, the mushroom breaks through the top. In the process, the bottom portion of the universal veil remains as the volva. Make certain to not mistake these amanita eggs for young edible puffball mushrooms. Head over to our article on backyard mushrooms to learn about distinguishing true puffballs, such as Lycoperdon perlatum, from an amanita egg.
  • Once the death cap emerges from the egg, it features a white stipe with a saclike volva. The upper portion of the stipe usually has a veil remnant ring.
  • When young, the cap is tightly convex, becoming broadly convex to flat as it matures. The color of death caps can vary but is often a pale olive green or yellow-brown. The color often intensifies toward the center of the cap. You may see some fine patches of the universal veil remnants on the cap. Other times, the cap will be bald. The size of the cap can range from 1.5-6 inches across.
  • The gills are typically free from the stipe, crowded, and usually white to very lightly white-green.
  • If you slice the mushroom, the flesh should be white and won’t change color upon cutting.


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About the Author

Cammi Morgan is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on mycology, marine animals, forest and river ecology, and dogs. Cammi has been volunteering in animal rescue for over 10 years, and has been studying mycology and field-researching mushrooms for the past 3 years. A resident of Southeast Appalachia, Cammi loves her off-grid life where she shares 20 acres with her landmates, foster dogs, and all the plants, fungi, and critters of the forest.

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