Psilocybe weraroa is one of the strangest members of the Psilocybe genus, an alien-looking “secotioid” or pouch-like mushroom. Due to its unconventional appearance, it was only added to the Psilocybe group in 2010 after extensive genetic profiling. It is considered an ancestor of the genus, maintaining a less “evolved” structure consistent with other old mushroom lineages.
It was originally assigned to the Weraroa genus because of its shape; it is commonly confused with W. virescens, which shares a strikingly similar appearance. They can only be differentiated by the colour of their “gleba”, or spore-filled centre. P. weraroa was removed from this group due to the observation that it also readily and rapidly bruises blue to damage and age, a characteristic of Psilocybe.
This species gained more interest from the scientific community once stories of recreational use started flowing out of its native New Zealand. Genetically, it is very similar to P. subaeruginosa and P. cyanescens, even preferring similar habitats and cultivation to these two Psilocybe.
The potency was discovered to be variable, from relatively low to the higher end of the magic mushroom spectrum. It contains significant levels of both psilocybin and psilocin, the latter contributing to its rapid reaction to damage. The flavour is said to be bitter-sweet and earthy; the scent is characteristic, with organic or fern-like notes and rubbery undertones.
P. weraroa can be found in only certain areas of New Zealand: commonly in the southern half of the North Island, and only rarely on the South Island. They can be very difficult to spot, as they are usually somewhat buried in leaf litter, but the mushrooms themselves can persist for months in this humid environment before decaying.
This long lifespan leaves them open to predation, the only way they can distribute their trapped spores, unlike the other Psilocybe mushrooms who release them into the wind. Therefore, most specimens will have been nibbled by slugs or other insects, rarely leaving them entirely intact.
They prefer to grow on woody debris, particularly Melicytus ramiflorus (“whiteywood”), or decaying ferns, from April to August. Occasionally they can be found in the winter months growing on or around fallen pine cones in mixed forests. While considered a slow grower, these environments can be recreated with shredded conifer bark for home cultivation.
P. weraroa will never be confused with other Psilocybe species due to their distinct appearance. The whitish cap forms a pouch that is roundish or ovate, though can take strange globular forms when growing or decaying. It is finely hairy and a light brown when young, becoming smooth and sometimes sticky with age.
It gains a blue-grey colour as it gets older, appearing very similar to W. virescens, though P. weraroa will stain further blue with damage. The former has a dark brown to black “gleba” while the latter usually has a sepia or chocolate brown, the mushrooms must be cut into to reveal this identifying feature.
The cap of P. weraroa can be 3 to 5 centimetres tall and 1 to 3 centimetres wide. The stipe may not be visible, with the entirety concealed within the pouch-cap in some mushrooms. It reaches a maximum size of only 4 centimetres, including that which may be hidden by the cap. It is slender, only 3 to 6 millimetres, hollow, cartilaginous and a whitish-blue-grey that matches the cap.
While the features of this mushroom seem to preclude it from the Psilocybe genus, the bluing reaction and anecdotes of activity spurred another look. P. weraroa contributes to explaining the evolution of Psilocybe mushrooms and illustrates the extreme variability within the family.
Singer R. (1958). “New genera of fungi, IX. The probable ancestor of the Strophariaceae: Weraroa gen. nov”. Lloydia. 21: 45–7
Guzmán G, Horak E (1978). “New species of Psilocybe from Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and New Zealand”. Sydowia. 31 (1–6): 44–54