Mushrooms and Other Fungi

Shelf mushroom
Shelf mushroom (Ganoderma sp.)

NPS Photo

Shenandoah National Park supports over 400 species of fungi. Mushroom development in the park tends to be favored by the moist conditions of 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 numerous other places within the park.

Mushrooms are saprophytic (decomposing) organisms that thrive by breaking down organic matter. Mushrooms and other fungi are critical components of the forest ecosystem because they facilitate the release of nutrients from dead organisms, allowing them to be recycled into new living material.

What most people consider a mushroom is actually the "fruiting body" of a much larger organism. A large network of fungal filaments (hyphae) that collectively make up a dense mat (the mycelium) supports every mushroom visible in the park. The mycelium grows on and within the substrate on which the mushroom is found, and serves as the food gathering stage of the fungus.

A mutually beneficial association between plantroots and fungi (mycorrhizae) forms in almostall plants. Mycorrhizal associations enhanceabsorption of critical nutrients and minerals for plants.

Morel mushrooms
Morel mushrooms (Morchella sp.)

NPS Photo

Edible mushrooms constitute only a small fraction of the fungus species within the park. Morels (Morchella spp.) are a popular spring edible in Shenandoah. Mushroom hunters look for them when the oak leaves are "the size of a mouse's ear". However, even these relatively easy to identify species need to be carefully differentiated from false morels (Gyromitria spp.) which are harmful if eaten. One of the largest of all fungi, the giant puffball (Calvatia maxima), is also found in the park. This edible fungus can grow up to 50 centimeters (20 inches) in diameter.

Small amounts of edible mushrooms may be collected for personal use, up to one quart per person per day (for morel mushrooms, up to one gallon per person per day). Many mushrooms are poisonous, and no mushroom should be eaten unless you are able to correctly identify the species and know that it is edible. Collecting or disturbing medicinal or woody shelf mushrooms, or any other inedible mushrooms, is prohibited. Find out more about the regulations regarding mushroom collecting.

Related Information

McKnight, K.H. and V.B. McKnight. 1987. A Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts.

Miller, O.K. 1981. Mushrooms of North America. E.P.Dutton, New York, New York.

Simpson, R.C. 1992. Macro-fungi checklist: Shenandoah National Park. Unpublished Report. 2 pp.

North American Mycological Association

Listing of this website does not and is not intended to imply endorsement by the National Park Service of commercial services or products associated with the site.

Last updated: March 5, 2019

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211 East

Luray, VA 22835


540 999-3500
Emergency Phone: 1-800-732-0911

Contact Us