Psilocybe cyanescens is a potent species native to the Pacific Northwest of North America with a rapidly expanding, nearly worldwide distribution. It is commonly found in its native range, however may be relatively rare in the areas where it has recently inhabited. While contentious, the species P. bohemica and P. serbica of Europe may comprise the same species.
The range of this fungus has exploded through the assistance of human activity. It has a strong preference for woody substrates and is suspected to have contaminated most main sources of commercial garden mulch and wood chips. Therefore, it is frequently found amongst gardens and mulched trails, wood chips or any lignacious (woody) debris; it can rarely be discovered on raw compost, though generally only in those that are rich in grasses or organic waste.
Commonly referred to as “wavy caps”, P. cyanescens has a characteristically wavy or rippled cap. While this can help for identifying it from other Psilocybe species, it may cause confusion with other genera. Galerina marginata is a toxic fungus that looks very similar depending on age and is commonly found nearby groups of P. cyanescens. Because of this, some accounts of toxicity, especially among children, could have been misattributed to this species in the United States.
Like other members of the Psilocybe genus, P. cyanescens has low toxicity, but this particular species is known for its potency. It contains considerable levels of active compounds: high psilocybin, very high psilocin and a trace amount of baeocystin. The higher levels of unstable psilocin makes storage of this species detrimental to its potency, however samples found in the wild share similar strength with those cultivated at home.
If growing P. cyanescens in an indoor setting, challenges are expected. The vegetative phase, or pre-mushroom growth, is six to eight weeks depending on substrate; rye grain, sawdust, mulch or any woody debris may be suitable. The fruiting, or mushroom growth, of this species is dependent on a shift to colder temperatures. Further, the yield per weight of growth substrate is generally lower than other popular cultivars.
While mycelium of P. cyanescens is easy to maintain and transplant to outdoor settings, it only begins to produce active compounds after a certain point of maturity, specifically the development of “primordia” (the first stage of fruiting). It contains only psilocybin alone, with no trace of the potent psilocin that is found in the fruiting bodies.
In its North American range, it is commonly found and cultivated outdoors. These wild specimens are usually very potent and undergo an intense bluing reaction to handling or damage. This makes them very sought after in both their dried form and as transplants for recreational purposes. In certain rare occasions, many tens of thousands of mushrooms may be found fruiting in the same area if conditions have been ideal.
Outside of its natural range in North America, P. cyanescens may be confused with other close relatives, commonly known as the “caramel-capped” family, describing the general colour of their caps. In New Zealand, P. subaeruginosa shares most of the same characteristics, along with P. makarorae and P. aucklandii. Sharing a similar range in the Pacific Northwest of North America, P. allenii may only be differentiated through the aid of a microscope.
While fickle being grown indoors, this species is being found in more places worldwide both through contamination and through interest in its potency. For those lucky enough to discover and identify them in the wild, maintaining the patch can be as important as preparing for the resulting experience. Fresh samples will almost always ensure a more powerful result, but these mushrooms are constantly growing in popularity however they’re found.
*Thanks to Seymour for helpful corrections regarding similar species in New Zealand!