Home Gardening Toadstools vs Mushrooms: Identifying Edible and Poisonous Fungi in the Garden

Toadstools vs Mushrooms: Identifying Edible and Poisonous Fungi in the Garden

by Donna
3 minutes read

What is a Toadstool?

Toadstools are the fruiting bodies of fungi that we see above ground. They usually pop up in late summer and autumn, especially when it’s warm and damp. There are thousands of different types of fungi, and most of them are actually helpful. They break down dead plants and release nutrients back into the soil, which helps plants grow. Some fungi even team up with plant roots to make them stronger and help them absorb more water and nutrients.

However, some toadstools can be a problem in the garden. They might be a sign of fungi that are harmful to plants, like fairy rings or honey fungus. And some toadstools are very poisonous and should be removed if you have small children or pets around.

Mushroom or Toadstool: What’s the Difference?

People often use the term “toadstool” to refer to fungi with a stem and a cap, or to fungi that are poisonous. And they use the term “mushroom” to refer to fungi that are edible. But these are just general terms, and there’s no real scientific difference between a toadstool and a mushroom.

The word “toadstool” has been around for hundreds of years, but we’re not exactly sure where it came from. One theory is that it’s named after toads, which are often attracted to decaying toadstools and eat the flies that land on them.

Problem Garden Fungi

Two of the most common types of fungi that can cause problems in the garden are fairy rings and honey fungus. Fairy rings are circles of toadstools that appear in lawns. They can be several meters across, and the grass around them is often darker and lusher because it’s getting extra nutrients from the fungi. While fairy rings can be unsightly, they’re actually good for the lawn.

Honey fungus, on the other hand, is a more serious problem. It spreads underground and can kill the roots of woody plants and perennials. You can identify honey fungus by the honey-colored toadstools that appear above ground, as well as by the dead or dying plants around it.

Identifying Edible Fungi

If you’re thinking about picking and eating wild fungi, it’s important to be absolutely certain that they are edible. There are some good field guides, apps, and websites that can help you identify edible fungi, but the best advice is to get help from an expert. Look for guided walks and foraging classes in your area, or check with organizations like the British Mycological Society or the Wildlife Trusts.

Foraging for wild foods is becoming more popular, but it’s important to be aware of the risks. There are some fungi that look like edible mushrooms but are actually very poisonous. If you think you might have eaten a poisonous fungus, seek medical attention immediately and bring a sample of the fungus with you if possible.

Identifying Poisonous Fungi

Some toadstools or mushrooms are extremely toxic and should never be eaten or even handled without gloves. These include:

  • Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria): This toadstool has a bright red cap with white spots.
  • Death cap (Amanita phalliodes): This toadstool has a green or yellow cap.
  • Destroying Angel (Amanita virosa): This toadstool has a white or cream cap.

If you see any of these toadstools growing in areas where children or pets might come into contact with them, remove and destroy them immediately, wearing gloves.

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