Psilocybe semilanceata lookalikes

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[Photo by Colin David Chatfield]

Don’t hurt yourself by blindly hunting your “Liberty Caps”. Know your lookalikes.

Don’t let it deter you from enjoying some of nature’s greatest, most beautiful of gifts. This post will act as a visual comparison guide to Psilocybe semilanceata and some of  its lookalikes.

Psilocybe semilanceata

[Photo by Alan Rockefeller]

Get a good look. This iconic mushroom is also the type species (the species that represents the whole genus)  for Psilocybe. 

Notice the conical shape and smaller stature. The caps don’t normally get bigger than an inch in diameter.

Things to look for:

  • Conical shaped cap
  • Hygrophanous cap (turning pale after drying
  • Purple brown spores
  • Prominent nipple in the center (umbo)

[Photo by Anglerfish]

The “Liberty Cap” is named after its prominent and obvious umbo (the nipple in the center of the cap) which resembles the Phyrigian cap worn by freed slaves in ancient Rome.

The connections to the words ‘Freedom’ and ‘Liberty’ with this mushroom are hard to ignore. 

[Photo by Caleb Brown]

Here you can see the gills sporulating and falling downward. We can tell because of the purple-brown staining happening around the annuluar zone on the stipe.

This is simultaneously confirming the correct spore color for the “Liberty Cap” as well as displaying common feature of this mushroom.

The gills will be somewhat crowded and turn from pale to purple-brown in old age. The gill attachment to the stem can be called adnexed, or rather a very light attachemnt.

[Ryan Lennon Mac Fhiachrá]

Another prominent feature of P. semilanceata is how the margins of the cap becomes stained dark with released spores as shown in this photo.

Becoming intimate with the many features of the mushroom that you’re looking for is KEY. 

Now that we’re familiar with the Liberty cap, let’s get on with the lookalikes.

Conocybe apala

[Photo by Eva Skific (Evica)]

I’m sure you’ve come across this showstopper (that was a joke) if you’ve ever walked in grass that’s been somewhat moisturized.

Lacking nutrients and toxins, this frail thing seems to have only been placed here to resemble your “Liberty Caps”and nothing more.

What to notice in this lookalike:

  • Brownish-red spores
  • Extremely frail
  • Not hygraphanous. Cap is always a pale buff color

[Photo by Eva Skific (Evica)]

C. apala will snap in your hand after the slightest amount of pressure is applied unlike P. semilanceata.

Its spores are brown to reddish-brown. If you take a spore print, and you don’t at least see a little bit of purple, then proceed with the process of elimination.

Perhaps check to see if the cap bears a pellicle. Here’s a good video that shows you how to check for a pellicle.

Image

[Photo by Eva Skific (Evica)]

As you will notice, C. apala's gills are quite different from the "Liberty Cap".

There is a chance that they can resembe the lighter colored gills of P. semilanceata in young age, but once the spores start to fall, it becomes obvious which is which.

Don't get frustrated when you stumble upon thousands of these. That's just the way they are.

Protostropharia semiglobata

[Photo by karode13]

Protostropharia-semiglobata is another mushroom that enjoys very nutrient rich substrates. 

You will likely find these growing in the same grassy fields where your”Liberty Caps” will be growing. Both species enjoy nutrient rich substrates. 

However, Protostropharia-semiglobata can be found growing directly off of dung whereas “Liberty Caps” will never grow directly from dung.

What you’ll find in this lookalike:

  • Caps are yellowish in young age
  • Stem tends to have a bulbous base
  • Spores are purple-black (Not purple-brown)

[Photo by Alternativejamb]

In this great side-by-side comparison, you can see the resemblance of the "Liberty Cap" to Protostropharia semiglobata

If taking a spore print doesn't clear it up for you, then move on to the next set of identifying features.

Image

[Photo by kopeaus]

In the photo above, you can see the bulbous base that I mentioned earlier which you will not find in Psilocybe semilanceata.

You can also see in the photo the annular zone (which may be more apparent than Psilocybe semilanceata).

Oh yeah, this mushroom almost never has an obvious umbo so be sure to check that box off when comparing mushrooms.

    Pholiotina rugosa

    [Photo by Ryan Patrick (donjonson420)]

    • Deadly

    I decided this mushroom as the deadly lookalike to the liberty cap as opposed to Galerina marginata because the latter is normally found growing directly from wood. Though there is a chance G. marginata can appear to be growing terrestrially, it’s not very likely.

    After writing this though, I had a conversation with someone that said he finds G. marginata all over the place when hunting for “Liberty Caps”. 

    Better safe than sorry. Study both.

    Things to look for:

    • Annulus (BIG giveaway. P. semilanceata doesn’t have an annulus)
    • Rusty brown spores
    • Hygrophanous (just like P. semilanceata)

    An easy way to tell if you’ve found P. semilanceata or Pholiotina rugosa, is to pay attention to the annular zone on the stipe.

    P. semilanceata will never have a protruding annulus. It MAY have an annular zone stained dark purple- brown from spores.

    Pholiotina rugosa’s annulus is a dead giveaway that you’ve found a lookalike unless, you happen to find one that looks like the photo below.

    [Photo by Thomas Laxton (Tao)]

    Pholiotina rugosa is hygrophanous just like the majority of Psilocybes. You can see the pale buff color that the cap turns into after drying out a bit. 

    You can also see around the annular zone, a less apparent annulus. 

    Perhaps it fell off, or perhaps just didn't get very big. Make sure to be VERY vigilant as this one is quite deadly.

    It indeed contains the same toxins that you can find in the deadly Amanita genus like Amanita phalloides and Amanita bisporigera.

    [Photo by Tim Sage (T. Sage)]

    The gills are extremely similar to Psilocybe semilanceata in that they are both adnate to adnexed (which means there's either a slight attachment to a more broad attachment to the stem).

    You can tell the difference by comparing older specimens to each other.  The gills should be colored a lighter brown/rusty color in Pholiotina rugosa as compared to a darker purple color in an older specimen of Liberty Cap" based on their respective spore colors.

    Like I mentioned earlier, becoming INTIMATELY familiar with your desired mushroom is KEY to determining the species. 

    Hopefully after reading this you've already started learning some of the more subtle features of Psilocybe semilanceata and can be more confident when hunting out in the field.

    Leave me a comment below if I missed something, or if I made an error!

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