Many people have incorrect ideas about the differences between toadstools and mushrooms, and this can get them into a great deal of trouble if they’re amateur mushroom hunters. Some think that the main difference is that toadstools are all poisonous versions of mushrooms, while mushrooms are not poisonous. This is incorrect, however, and can cause serious problems for a mushroom hunter. In reality, there is no real scientific difference between toadstools and mushrooms, and the names are basically interchangeable.
Those mushrooms classed as toadstools may not be toxic, or only mildly so, and many mushrooms are deadly. It’s often not possible to tell if a mushroom is edible (unless you’re buying it in a grocery store) based on looks alone, therefore, unless a person is an expert. In general, people should never eat wild mushrooms unless a professional mushroom hunter evaluates them.
Some people define toadstools as any fungi that do not have a centrally located cap, lack a stem or don’t have "gills" underneath the cap. In fact, fungi commonly found in woods that might be identified as toadstools, like polypores, are still mushrooms, even though they don’t have stems. These, however, like the Trametes versicolor, which looks like tiny rainbows and often grows on the bottom of trees or on fallen logs, may be called toadstools to distinguish them from mushrooms that are more typically “mushroom shaped.” This distinction from a scientific standpoint is not correct.
Others define certain fungi that have the mushroom shape as toadstools, among them, the fly agaric or Amanita muscaria, a red capped stemmed mushroom that is both poisonous and possesses hallucinogenic properties if ingested. The main distinction here is degree of toxicity. Again, this mushroom, though bright red with white polka dots on the top, looks very “mushroom-like” in shape and resembles those mushrooms shapes people can buy at a grocery store.
What remains important about toadstools and mushrooms are the following facts:
- They are the same and no scientific distinction exists between them.
- They cannot be defined by shape, color, or appearance, since there is no standard differentiation between them.
- Mushrooms aren’t fungi with caps and stems while toadstools lack caps and stems.
- Fungi are not defined by level of toxicity: anything classed as either may be nontoxic, mildly toxic, hallucinogenic or extremely poisonous.
- People should never consume anything classed as toadstool or mushroom without having it first examined by a professional mushroom hunter.