Oyster mushroom identification and poisonous lookalikes (2023)

Edible mushrooms are growing in popularity, and they are commonly used as a delicious ingredient in several dishes across the world. Oyster mushrooms are very rich in taste and nutrients.

We generally think that all mushrooms are edible, but this is not true for all mushrooms. Some mushrooms are extremely poisonous and can be fatal upon ingestion. Remember, do not eat any mushroom if you are not sure what type of mushroom it is. You must seek advice from a mushroom expert to know if a mushroom is suitable for consumption or not.

There is a great variation in mushrooms species due to genetics and environmental conditions. The correct identification of mushrooms is very important to avoid poisonous mushrooms. Care should be taken and the mushrooms growing in the wild should not be consumed as they can be deadly poisonous. Poisonous mushrooms contain toxic secondary metabolites that can be toxic even in very small amounts resulting in severe symptoms. Poisonous mushrooms can even cause death if consumed in large amount.

There are several edible mushrooms such as oyster mushroom, button mushroom, shitake mushroom, and milky mushroom. However, there are poisonous look alikes of these edible mushrooms that you may easily confuse with edible mushrooms.

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) are common edible fungi that are long known for their amazing nutritional and health benefits. They are rich in nutrients and their protein value is comparable to meat. However, care must be taken to avoid poisonous look-alike of oyster mushrooms.

Identification of oyster mushrooms

Here I will share a few tips with you on how to correctly identify oyster mushrooms to avoid toxic look alikes.

Let’s take a close look at some characteristic features of edible oyster mushrooms.

Oyster mushroom identification and poisonous lookalikes (1)
(Video) 7 Types of Oyster Mushrooms and 3 Poisonous Look-Alikes

Oyster mushrooms are recognized by the presence of an oyster shaped cap. The first important characteristic feature of oyster mushrooms is the presence of decurrent gills. Decurrent gills are directly attached to the stem and run down the stem.

Features of cap

Take a close look at the cap of oyster mushrooms. It is usually fan or oyster shaped measuring 2 to 10 inches (5 to 25 cm). The cap will be smooth with no scales or warts. The cap usually grows in a shelf like manner with overlapping clusters. The color varies from light to brown with white firm flesh. The gills are decurrent and white colored.

Oyster mushroom identification and poisonous lookalikes (2)

Features of stem

Oyster mushrooms usually do not have a stem. If the oyster mushrooms growing on the side of the log will have stems then the stems will be stubby and off-centered. If the oyster mushrooms are growing on the top of the log, then they will have more well-developed stems. The stems will have white flesh. There will be no rings around the stem and no sack around the base.

Features of spore sprint

Oyster mushrooms are edible fungi that produce spores. The spores are lilac grey colored. To identify the spores, it is advised to make a spore sprint on dark background.

Characteristic smell of oyster mushrooms

Another important feature to identify oyster mushrooms is their characteristic smell. Oyster mushrooms have a mild anise smell. They have a sweet odor just like licorice.


Oyster mushrooms are basically saprotrophic in nature which means they feed on dead organic matter. This is the reason you will often find them growing on dead or dying trees and logs.

Oyster mushroom identification and poisonous lookalikes (3)
(Video) Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) Identification with Adam Haritan

Oyster mushrooms mostly grow on deciduous trees (deciduous trees are those trees that lose their leaves). They often grow on aspen, beech, and occasionally on conifers.

How to rule out poisonous look alikes of oyster mushrooms?

In this article, I will tell you how to rule out poisonous lookalikes of oyster mushrooms. There are several other types of oyster mushrooms that are edible for example Golden oyster (Pleurotus citrinopileatus), king oyster (Pleurotus eryngii),blue Oyster (PleurotusColumbinus), king tuber (Pleurotus tuberregium),pink oyster (Pleurotus Djamor), and phoenix oyster (Pleurotus pulmonarius).

All these mushrooms are edible and completely safe for human consumption. If you mistake king oyster for king tuber you will not be poisoned as both types are safe for consumption.

Elm oyster (Hypsizgus ulmarius) is another similar species that is not a true oyster mushroom, but it is often mistakenly considered as an oyster mushroom. Elm oyster mushroom is edible, but it is not as delicious as true oyster mushrooms. To differentiate between a true oyster mushroom and an elm oyster look at the gills closely. If the gills are running down the stem it is a true oyster mushroom however the gills of elm oyster mushrooms do not run down the stem.

A mushroom expert can easily tell the difference between poisonous and edible mushrooms. If you want to correctly differentiate between poisonous and edible mushrooms look at the pictures and information provided on internet sources.

Poisonous Look-Alikes of oyster mushrooms

Though edible mushrooms are extremely beneficial dietary ingredients. But still, you need to be careful while choosing mushrooms for consumption as several mushroom species can be extremely poisonous. Some poisonous fungi strikingly resemble edible mushroom species. There are several reported cases of mushroom poisoning in humans with several mild to severe symptoms.

You might be thinking if there are any toxic look alikes of oyster mushrooms.

There are 3 poisonous look-alikes of oyster mushrooms. You must be familiar with the poisonous look-alikes to avoid confusing edible oyster mushrooms with poisonous mushrooms.

(Video) How to Identify Oyster Mushrooms: A Beginner's Guide

1. Jack-O-Lantern (Omphalotus Olearius)

Omphalotus Olearius is commonly known as Jack-O-Lantern mushroom. It resembles the chanterelles and can be easily confused. However, it also resembles oyster mushrooms and can be easily mistaken with edible oyster mushrooms. Like oyster mushrooms, Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms also possess gills that run down the stem.

Oyster mushroom identification and poisonous lookalikes (4)

The key feature to distinguish between true oyster mushrooms and jack-o-lantern mushroom is the bright orange hue. True oyster mushrooms do not turn orange.

Jack-O-Lantern mushroom is bioluminescent. The gills of these mushrooms give a blue-green hue under low light conditions.

According to several reports, Jack-O-Lantern mushroom is not deadly, but it is still poisonous. You will experience diarrhea, cramps, and vomiting after eating Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms.

2. Ghost Fungus (Omphalotus nidiformis)

Ghost fungus is a poisonous mushroom that is often mistaken for oyster mushrooms. Omphalotus nidiformis is notable for its bioluminescent property. It glows under dark conditions. Ghost fungus resembles oyster mushrooms because it has white- or cream-colored gills that run down the stipe. But it is easy to tell the difference between ghost fungus and oyster mushroom based on the bioluminescent property. You can easily tell the difference at night however it will be difficult to tell the difference during the daytime.

Oyster mushroom identification and poisonous lookalikes (5)
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Though oyster mushrooms are delicious edible mushrooms the ghost fungus is not edible, and it can be poisonous upon ingestion. It is not fatal, but it can induce vomiting and severe abdominal cramps.

The fungus usually grows in Australia, Tasmania, and Japan. Recently, it has also been reported in India. If you are not living in any of these areas, you might not find it. However, you still need to be careful while eating wild mushroom species. Read more about hunting for Oyster Mushroom here.

3. Funnel (Clitocybe dealbata)

Funnel mushroom is a poisonous lookalike of elm oyster mushrooms. To tell the difference between funnel and oyster mushrooms look at the gills closely. The gills of funnel mushrooms stop at the base of the stem.

Oyster mushroom identification and poisonous lookalikes (6)

Funnel mushroom induces several toxicity symptoms after ingestion. It is known as sweating mushroom because it induces increased sweating along with abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, blurred vision, and abnormal breathing.

Bottom Line

Oyster mushrooms are edible fungi that are highly rich in taste and nutrients. These mushrooms commonly grow in wild on wooden logs. However, care must be taken to select an edible oyster mushroom species because they have a few poisonous look alikes that can be very detrimental to human health. Poisonous mushrooms can induce several symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vision defects, and abnormal breathing. To avoid eating poisonous mushrooms you can seek help from experts or use information and pictures available in the literature and the internet to identify mushrooms.

Enjoy eating your favorite oyster mushrooms!

(Video) Poisonous Mushroom Identification for Beginners: Jack O' Lantern vs 6 Lookalikes

For more queries and questions related to growing oyster mushrooms feel free to write to us.


Are there any poisonous oyster look alikes? ›

The gills of a true oyster run down the stem, the gills of an elm oyster does not. The elm oyster is edible, although some say not as tasty. So are there any poisonous look-alikes? The poisonous Omphalotus nidiformis is sometimes mistaken for an oyster.

How can you tell if an oyster mushroom is edible? ›

Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) Identification with Adam Haritan

Is there a false oyster mushroom? ›

Phyllotopsis nidulans is a member of the Tricholomataceae family. The Mock Oyster was once placed in the genus Pleurotus, the true edible oyster mushrooms, and it is a convincing look-alike. Don't be fooled though, this species may be non-toxic, but Phyllotopsis nidulans is distinctly lacking in culinary value.

Is the oyster mushroom toxic? ›

Ostreolysin (Oly), an acidic, 15 kDa protein from the edible oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), is a toxic, pore-forming cytolysin. In this paper, its toxic properties have been studied in rodents and the LD(50) in mice shown to be 1170 microg/kg.

How do you identify a poisonous mushroom? ›

In general, you should avoid mushrooms that have white gills. You should also steer clear of mushrooms that have a ring around the stem and/or a bulbous base, which may be above or below ground. Mushrooms with red on the stem or cap are also likely to be poisonous.

What can be confused with oyster mushroom? ›

One of the few poisonous mushrooms that could conceivably be mistaken for an Oyster is the Jack-o-lantern mushroom (Omphalotus olivascens). Jack-o-lantern mushrooms resemble Oyster mushrooms in form and like them, they grow on wood.

What is the best tasting oyster mushroom? ›

Golden Oyster

One of the better tasting oyster mushrooms out there. (Pleurotus citrinopileatus) One of our most beautiful oyster species, this cool to warm weather strain is VERY FRAGILE when mature.

How do you identify an oyster mushroom? ›

Oyster mushrooms have a white to light brown to a darker brown, funnel-shaped cap, with whitish- yellow gills running up a short off-center stem. The flesh is white. The cap is usually 5 to 25cm (2 to 10”) across and it grows in a shelf-like formation often with overlapping clusters. Gills are white and decurrent.

What is a pink oyster mushroom? ›

Pleurotus djamor, commonly known as the pink oyster mushroom, is a species of fungus in the family Pleurotaceae. It was originally named Agaricus djamor by the German-born botanist Georg Eberhard Rumphius and sanctioned under that name by Elias Magnus Fries in 1821.

What makes a mushroom poisonous? ›

The most common dangerous mushrooms are those belonging to the Amanita genus, especially Amanita phalloides, aptly called “death cap” mushrooms. They contain toxic compounds called amatoxins that damage liver cells.

How can you tell the difference between a poisonous mushroom and edible? ›

- Take a closer look at the gills on the underside of the mushroom's cap. Edible wild mushrooms will have gills that are attached to the stem, while poisonous varieties will have gills that are free from the stem.

What is the most poisonous mushroom? ›

The world's most poisonous mushroom, Amanita phalloides, is growing in BC. ABSTRACT: Amatoxins in Amanita phalloides, commonly known as the death cap mushroom, are responsible for 90% of the world's mushroom-related fatalities.

Can I take a picture of a mushroom and have it identified? ›

Another Android app, Mushroom Identify is great for visual learners. This fun app allows you to take a photo of any mushroom you come across and get an ID within seconds.

Is a pearl oyster mushroom poisonous? ›

A jack-o-lantern mushroom is orange to yellow in color. In contrast, pearl oysters are cream-colored or gray. Most pearl oyster mushroom lookalikes aren't highly poisonous. However, there are some lookalikes like the jack-o-lantern mushroom that can cause serious stomach upset.

How do you identify an oyster mushroom? ›

Distinguishing Features

Oyster mushrooms have a white to light brown to a darker brown, funnel-shaped cap, with whitish- yellow gills running up a short off-center stem. The flesh is white. The cap is usually 5 to 25cm (2 to 10”) across and it grows in a shelf-like formation often with overlapping clusters.

What does death cap mushroom look like? ›

What do death cap mushrooms look like? The death cap is often pale and yellowish in colour with a large cap and skirting underneath it. It often has a faint, honey-sweet smell. Death cap mushrooms can be confused some with edible mushrooms, such as puffballs and paddy-straw mushrooms.

Is Destroying Angel the same as death cap? ›

phalloides mushrooms, frequently termed death cap or destroying angel, are white capped with a yellow–greenish top at the center of the cap. They are characterized by closed white gills, a white stalk enlarging to a basal bulb, and a membranous volva.

What is the best oyster mushroom? ›

Two good choices of oysters to grow first are:
  • Blue grey oysters. These are the easiest and one of the highest yielding. ...
  • Pink oysters (in pic above). As well as being a stunning colour, these are one of the fastest growing mushrooms, producing fruits in as little as three or four weeks.

Can you eat the whole oyster mushroom? ›

Use the mushrooms whole, sliced, or simply torn into appropriately sized pieces. While you can eat oyster mushrooms raw and they can be quite pretty added to salads, they tend to have a slightly metallic flavor when uncooked.

Are there any oyster mushroom look alikes? ›

One lookalike is the elm oyster. It's not actually an oyster mushroom at all, but it can be easily misidentified as one. The easiest way to tell an elm oyster is by looking at its gills. An elm oyster's gills don't run down the stem like a true oyster.

How do I identify a mushroom? ›

Among the diagnostic features used to identify mushrooms are the size, color and shape of the cap and stem; whether the underside of the cap has pores, gills or teeth; the absence or presence of a veil; the color of the mushroom and its flesh.

What is the scientific name of oyster mushroom? ›

What is the most toxic mushroom? ›

The world's most poisonous mushroom, Amanita phalloides, is growing in BC. ABSTRACT: Amatoxins in Amanita phalloides, commonly known as the death cap mushroom, are responsible for 90% of the world's mushroom-related fatalities.

Can you survive eating a death cap? ›

Death cap mushrooms can grow anywhere in our region, at any time. All parts of the death cap mushroom are poisonous. Eating even a small amount of a death cap mushroom can kill you. Death cap mushrooms remain potentially lethal, even if cooked.

Can you touch a poisonous mushroom? ›

Amateur foragers and backyard gardeners alike should be on alert for poisonous wild mushrooms, which can grow next to edible varieties and aren't dangerous to touch. But consuming even a bite of them can be harmful.

Can you survive eating a Destroying Angel? ›

DEADLY. The name “Destroying Angel” is well deserved. Symptoms of poisoning often don't appear until 6–24 hours after eating, and include vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps. Later, kidney or liver dysfunction occurs and can lead to death.

Can you touch a Destroying Angel? ›

It's a deadly poisonous mushroom called Amanita, also known as the destroying angel. “You can touch it. Just don't eat it,” Lockwood said. “Destroying angel is such a great name,” Vilgalys said.

What happens when you eat a Destroying Angel mushroom? ›

It is widely distributed in Europe and North America and is responsible for 90–95% of fatal mushroom poisonings. Cholera-like symptoms – nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea – of Amanita poisoning begin 10–20 h after ingestion; severe damage to the liver and kidney follows, and this damage finally leads to death.


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