Mushroom Photo Gallery:
Agarics (Gilled Mushrooms)
This resource is posted without warranty as to absolute taxonomic determination. In other words, it is possible that I have mislabelled a mushroom here! I am always grateful for corrections (contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
DO NOT use these photos as a tool for safe identification of edible wild mushrooms—use resources that are designed for that purpose:
Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America
America's Best, Safest Edible Wild Mushrooms
Gilled mushrooms (agarics) have evolved at least four or five times according to DNA study results so far, and probably even more often than that. This particular manifestation of the phenomenon of convergent evolution has repeated itself because each spore has an exceedingly slim chance of germinating at the right time in the right place—and two sexually compatible spores have to germinate in proximity to one another in order for mating to occur. In order to be successful, each species has to successfully compete against numerous other species for habitat.
The reason that gills keep evolving is that they provide the highest surface-area-to-mass ratio for the external production of spores. Mathematics dictate that given enough time, any basidiomycete will evolve gills unless it resorts to internal spore production (as with puffballs, which have an even greater mathematical advantage). Consider: If whoever invented the standard design of the radiators under our cars' hoods (which very obviously resemble the gills of an agaric) hadn't done so, someone else would have, for the very same reason: it's all about the ratio, and this particular design is ultimately effective at fulfilling a vital goal.
Now that mushrooms have had some 100 million years to evolve, there are a lot of gilled mushrooms around, and the variations between species and genera of gilled mushrooms can confound even seasoned mushroom experts and professional mycologists. In many cases, it is impossible to identify a gilled mushroom even to genus without resorting to the use of a microscope to assess cellular characters, which are too minute to be seen with the naked eye.
That said, there are nonetheless scores of common (i.e., evolutionarily successful) gilled mushrooms which are so distinctive that they can be readily identified to species in the field. This section of the AmericanMushrooms.com Photo Gallery features an assortment of gilled mushrooms in both categories. In other words, some of these photographs show gilled mushrooms that are relatively easy to identify, while others show gilled mushrooms that cannot be confidently identified by anyone but a very experienced mycologist.
Here's the point: If you see a photograph that appears to show a gilled mushroom you're trying to identify, that does not mean you have identified your specimen; it only means that you have found a photo of something that, to you, looks a lot like your specimen. Whether it is or not remains to be seen. Only through careful study and the use of a good field guide can one be certain of a gilled mushroom's identity.
Look here and you'll get a good sense of how big a role attention to detail plays in the art of identifying gilled mushrooms (and other mushrooms): The BASICS of MUSHROOM IDENTIFICATION.
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