Psilocybe makarorae is one of the few Psilocybe species to be solely restricted to New Zealand. It is found growing on the rotting wood of Southern Beeches (Nothofagus) on both the North and South Islands of the country. It gained its name from the Makarora River, beside which it is commonly encountered.
While not a particularly common mushroom compared to other Psilocybe in New Zealand, it has a preference for open areas like lakes and picnic grounds. This may by consequence increase the perception of abundance given the mushrooms like the same areas that humans do, increasing the likelihood of discovery.
Oddly enough, this species was described by science only recently in 1995, though previously mentioned in another publication from 1981. However, the original specimen that was analysed in 1995, and concluded to be a new species, was actually collected as early as 1969. Before its careful analysis, it was simply concluded to be one of the other more common species known to grow in New Zealand.
P. makarorae shares many of its features with other members of Psilocybe, justifying the early confusion in its identification. P. caerulipes differs only microscopically, though is solely restricted to North America. There are however at least six known species of Psilocybe with a range that covers all or part of New Zealand.
P. subaeruginosa and P. tasmaniana (considered by some to be the same species), along with P. subcubensis, are only successfully separated from P. makarorae with the aid of a microscope. P. cubensis prefers dung over rotting wood and displays a larger, golden cap and a ringed stipe. P. auklandii differs by habitat, preferring other types of forest; P. semilanceata differs further by altitude, restricted to the high-altitude grasslands of the Southern Island.
P. makarorae has few defining features, even experts were eluded by this mushroom for decades. The pronounced bluing reaction to damage and age is indicative of its potency, likely moderate due to psilocybin and psilocin. This darkening is quite distinct against the yellow- to orange-brown cap, with lighter-coloured edges increasing the definition of the blue-green.
The pronounced umbo has a characteristic point, some specimens may even present with a sharp papilla. The overall shape begins conic but flattens with age, reaching a size of up to 6 centimetres across. Along the edges, remnants of a veil may be left behind, usually evidenced as well by a whitish ring near the top of the stipe. On younger specimens, this cobweb-like “cortina” may still be intact and connecting the cap to the stipe.
The slender stipe is equally as long as the cap (6cm) and is covered in silky fibrils or hairs that may be pressed flat against the surface. The base of the mushrooms are often darker and may present with root-like rhizoids that may also have a blue hue. Regardless, macroscopic features are not adequate to differentiate the Psilocybe species in New Zealand, and a microscope or expert is required.
Though P. makarorae is not the most common or potent of Psilocybe species on New Zealand, confusing it for one of the more popular mushrooms will not disappoint. While not cultivated commonly by amateurs, likely due to other stand-outs in the region, this species will continue to be a target or a prize for wild mushroom hunters and picnickers alike.
Margot P, Watling R (1981). “Studies in Australian agarics and boletes II. Further studies in Psilocybe”. Transactions of the British Mycological Society. 76 (3): 485–9.
Johnston PR, Buchanan PK (1995). “The genus Psilocybe (Agaricales) in New Zealand” (PDF). New Zealand Journal of Botany. 33 (3): 379–88.