Fantastic fungi and how to identify them

Fantastic fungi and how to identify them

Autumn is upon us and many fungi are emerging. Our Research Scientist Lara Shepherd takes us on a photo tour of New Zealand’s diverse fungi, lists resources to help you identify your fungal finds, and discusses that age-old question – can I eat it?

New Zealand boasts a splendid array of fungi. Our fungi come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes and in all colours of the rainbow. Some even glow in the dark!

A diversity of shapes:

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And a rainbow of colours:

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New Zealand has an estimated 20,000 species of fungi but many of these, especially the small inconspicuous ones, have not yet been studied and remain unnamed. All of the photos on this post are of fungal fruiting bodies.

The remaining part of these fungi lives underground year-round or inside decaying wood.

What’s in a name? Pucker up for the hot lips puffball!

The common names of many fungi are sometimes just as interesting as the fungi themselves. Some fungi names reflect their otherworldliness like fairy cups, witches’ butter, devil’s fingers, and pixie’s parasol.

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Other names describe the look of the fungus, such as the icing sugar fungus, eyelash cups, and pagoda fungus.

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Other fungi names are just bizarre:

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I want to know more! Fungi identification resources

There are some excellent books available to help you identify your fungi including A Field Guide to New Zealand Fungi, the Forest Fungi Photo Guides and Mushrooms and Other Fungi of New Zealand.

There are also websites dedicated to fungus identification. For these, you need good photos of the topside and the underside of the fungus, plus information about or a photo of the type of forest in which it is growing.

By loading your photos onto the online citizen science platform iNaturalist not only will your observations be identified by experts, where possible, but they will also contribute to science. For example, scientists use these records to determine species distributions. One fungus I photographed in the middle of Wellington for iNaturalist turned out to be a new species record for New Zealand!

There are also several Facebook groups dedicated to New Zealand fungi identification:

Can I eat it?

All Fungi are edible. Some fungi are only edible once. – Terry Pratchett

Many of the experts on the above websites won’t comment on whether fungi are edible, and for good reason.  There are numerous fungi in New Zealand that are toxic and can cause serious illness or even death.

Be very cautious if you intend to consume fungi collected in the wild. Remember that anyone can post an identification on Facebook and you may be putting your life in their hands.

Further fungi resources


  1. i have a photo of possible fungi taken in arthur’s pass area and would like identification,can i send photo to where

  2. Great pix and good info, Lara. I endorse the suggestion to put pix on iNaturalist-the fungus experts are active and helpful

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