Studying Mushrooms > Preserving Specimens


Preserving Specimens

by Michael Kuo

I can think of three reasons to preserve your mushroom finds. First, because it's fun--and any mushroomer who has ever caught the "collector's bug" for something besides mushrooms will find that collecting mushrooms is no different. Second, you will be glad you saved your mushrooms later, as your mushroom identification skills develop. You will be able to go back to identify mushrooms you were unsure of before, or reconsider identifications you made. You may find yourself using a microscope confidently, down the line somewhere, and you will be able to confirm or modify identifications you made in the past if you have saved the specimens. Third, saving your mushrooms is important to the science of mycology. Truth be told, relatively little is known about mushrooms. Hundreds, even thousands of species in North America are as yet undescribed. The range and ecological limits of many species are unknown. If you have kept a detailed journal entry for a mushroom and preserved the specimen, there is a chance that a "real" mycologist may someday be truly interested in your find.

Documenting Your Find

Preserving a mushroom would be pointless without the accompaniment of a detailed journal entry describing the mushroom thoroughly, documenting its ecology, where and when it was found, and so on. See the page on Describing Mushrooms and Keeping a Journal for information on how to go about making such a record. Illustrating your collections is also important. A sketch, drawing, painting, photograph, digital photo, or scan of your mushroom is a great idea, and it will make your collection more useful (to yourself and to others) later. Scanning mushrooms is very easy; see the linked page for more information. Taking good photographs requires more work and involves a steeper learning curve, but the time is well worth the effort. See Pam Kaminski's Introduction to Mushroom Photography and my page on Digital Photography Tips page for more information.

Drying the Specimens

You should attempt to dry small- to medium-sized mushrooms whole, if possible. Larger mushrooms will need to be cut into pieces; you may even find yourself discarding substantial chunks of a larger mushroom. Make sure, however, that you do not discard all the pieces of one of the mushroom's parts. Dry at least some of the cap, the gills or undersurface, the stem, the base of the stem, and so on.

A commercial food dehydrator (available in most department stores for about $30) will dry specimens effectively. Keep the mushrooms clearly separated in the dryer. When dried they are not often going to look much like they did before, so you will want to make sure you know which mushroom is which. When I am drying more than one or two mushrooms, I put little pieces of paper next to each mushroom that help me remember.

Experience will tell you how long to dry mushrooms; larger specimens, of course, take longer than small ones. Your goal is to dry the mushroom so that it is brittle. After you have turned the dryer off, remove the mushrooms and wait at least ten minutes before checking them. Sometimes mushrooms that seemed dry when you took them out of the dryer will soften up in this time period and become flexible; if this happens, dry the mushrooms for a longer time period.

If you also dry edible mushrooms for long-term storage and later consumption, do not use the same dehydrator for specimens.

Do not dry mushrooms in your living quarters. Some people are allergic to drying mushrooms and can get headaches, or even break out in rashes, when they are around an operating mushroom dryer.

When a food dehydrator is not available (for example, when you are traveling) you may be able to dry mushroom specimens using Alternative Drying Methods.

Storing the Specimens

I recommend storing your mushrooms in sturdy plastic zip-lock bags. "Real" mycological collections are wrapped in acid-free paper and stored in special cardboard boxes, but the expense of such materials is prohibitive for most of us. Put the mushroom(s) in the plastic bag along with enough of a written record so that you can later figure out what's what, and what corresponds to your journal entries. This may not seem like much of an issue at first, but as your collection grows you will probably find that you need some kind of a numbering system in order to make sense out of anything. I put the following on a note card or piece of paper in each specimen bag:

  • Catalogue number. I use a system that involves the date the mushroom was found, expressed in six digits, followed by the number (expressed in two digits) of the find. Thus, 09029502 represents the second mushroom I collected on September 2, 1995. The mushrooms described in my journal are labeled with the same numbers. A more common system (and one that can be sorted out by computers without modifications) is simply to number mushroom collections in ascending order, beginning with "1."

  • Your identification of the mushroom.

  • The location and date of the collection.

You don't have to use my system, of course. The point is that you will probably need to use some system to keep track of everything.

Store your collection in a dry location. I use filing boxes to hold the plastic bags, and I keep the collections in an air-tight cabinet.


When your collection begins to get larger, make sure you let people know it exists. Your specimens may be useful to the science of mycology. Let the local mycologist know of your collection's existence (and what's in it), publish a list of collected species names in your mushroom club's newsletter, and so on. Mycology is in many ways an infant science, and the more data available to the professionals, the better!

Cite this page as:

Kuo, M. (2006, November). Preserving specimens. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site:

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