Mushrooms and Other Fungi

A grey mushroom with black spots growing out of a pile of leaves.
Old Man Of The Woods (Strobilomyces floccopus)

NPS Photo/ Alexa Harmon

Mammoth Cave National Park supports over 200 species of fungi. A great abundance of these species are seen in Spring and late Fall, but careful observation at any time of year will reveal a wide diversity of fungus on dead wood, leaf litter, and many other places within the park.

Fungi's Role in the Food Web

It may be a surprise to learn that fungi are not plants. They do not have chlorophyll (the pigment needed for photosynthesis), fungi cannot capture sunlight and manufacture the carbon compounds needed for survival, instead they draw their energy from where they grow. Mushrooms are commonly found clumped on dead trees, consuming downed rotten wood, or growing out of animal dung. They slowly decompose this material and return nutrients to the soil for other plants to use. Without mushrooms and other fungi, the forest would take considerably longer to decompose and regenerate.

Mushrooms sitting in a red mesh bag.
If you don't have a mesh bag dedicated for collecting mushrooms, a potato or onion bag from the grocery store can work great.

NPS Photo/ Kelli Tolleson

Gathering Mushrooms

The information provided on this website is not intended to serve as an identification guide, but rather as a resource for those who are curious about fungi they encounter in the park. Some species of mushrooms are edible, but many contain toxins: some can be irritants to the skin and others are deadly if ingested. It is extremely difficult for anyone but an expert to identify the difference between edible and inedible mushrooms. If you are not 100% certain you have identified a mushroom correctly, do not collect it!

The collection of edible fungi is permitted within Mammoth Cave National Park. Park regulations in accordance with the Superintendent’s Compendium, allow any person to gather one gallon of edible fungi, per person, per day for personal use of consumption. All edible fungi must be collected in a mesh container, allowing for the distribution of spores throughout the forest.

Inedible fungi may not be collected for medicinal, artistic, or other uses. (An inedible fungus is defined as one that is not consumed in its entirety by humans and may be extremely toxic to humans.) Remember that not all parks allow the collection of mushrooms, so it is important to check the regulations with each park.

A large orange shelf mushroom
Chicken Of The Woods (Laetiporus sp.)

NPS Photo/ Alexa Harmon

Interesting Species Found in the Park

Laetiporus sulphureus is a species of bracket fungus (fungus that grow on trees) found throughout the world. Its common names are crab-of-the-woods, sulphur shelf, and chicken-of-the-woods. Its fruit bodies grow as striking golden-yellow shelf-like structures on tree trunks and branches. Unlike many bracket fungi, it is edible when young, although adverse reactions have been reported.

Amanita phalloides, commonly known as death cap, is a deadly poisonous fungus. The large fruiting bodies appear in summer and autumn. The caps are generally greenish in color with a white stipe and gills, however cap color is variable and thus not a reliable identifier. Death cap is one of the most poisonous of all known mushrooms, and they resemble several edible species commonly consumed by humans, increasing the risk of accidental poisoning.

A brown and white fan like shelf mushroom on a tree
Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor)

NPS Photo

Trametes versicolor is a common polypore mushroom found throughout the world. Meaning 'of several colors', versicolor reliably describes this fungus that displays different colors. For example, because its shape and multiple colors are like those of a wild turkey, T. versicolor is commonly called turkey tail. This species is nonedible.

Morchella, the true morels, is a genus of edible sac fungi that have a honeycomb appearance due to the network of ridges with pits composing their caps. Morels are a popular spring edible, as mushroom hunters look for them when the oak leaves are “the size of a mouse’s ear”. However, these relatively easy to identify species need to be carefully differentiated from false morels (Gyromitria) which are harmful if eaten.


Park Species List

Explore a sortable database of species found in the park.


Last updated: November 24, 2021

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P.O. Box 7
Mammoth Cave, KY 42259-0007


270 758-2180

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