Psilocybe zapotecorum has a long and storied history, earning the nicknames “crown of thorns” and “drunken mushroom”. It is held in high regard by the Zapotec Indians from where it gained its name; their title for the mushroom is teotlacuilnanácatl, or “the sacred or divine mushroom that paints or describes through color figures”.
There is historical evidence for the use of these mushrooms, through pottery, sculpture and art; P. zapotecorum is still found carefully cultivated in the dark and humid corners of the homes of some native tribes in Mexico. Due to its wide range and variable shape, it has gained many names from natives and scientists alike.
This species has moderate to very high potency and can grow up to impressive sizes. The very high, but equally variable, levels of psilocin result in a rapid bluing reaction to damage or age. This can leave old or bruised mushrooms nearly entirely black or a dark cyan blue.
P. zapotecorum is one of the largest of the Psilocybe mushrooms, up to 13 centimetres wide and 26 centimetres tall. The cap is usually asymmetrical and can take strange shapes, commonly presenting with an umbo or papilla. It is a yellowish-brown colour that lightens towards the wavy or scalloped edges. Very old mushrooms may have a depressed centre, where the cap starts to fall into the hollow stem.
Given the large size, the stipe is still relatively slender, only 5 to 10 millimetres. It ranges in colour anywhere from white, grey, yellow, blue to dark black; it is usually covered in whitish scales that are more pronounced near the bottom. Root-like or pear-shaped masses may be found at the base, mostly white and with variable texture.
They may be hard to spot in the dark muddy soils and marshes they prefer, in the humid, shadowed forests of Central and South America. P. zapotecorum can often be found near rivers and creeks, sometimes even growing on steep, mossy ravine walls. From Mexico to Argentina, the mushrooms appear in groups or clusters, up to hundreds at a time, especially in or near coffee plantations.
They are similar to other Psilocybe relatives: P. caerulescens (only in USA), P. muliercula (high elevation), P. angustipleurocystidiata (high elevation). It may even be the same species as P. candidipes, depending on the current contentious opinion in the scientific community. Like many of the above species, P. zapotecorum has been reported to grow artificially, with a study publishing growth in 40 days on mixed compost.
Along with P. mexicana and P. caerulescens, P. zapotecorum shares a long history as the potential mushrooms that drove ancient Mexican mushrooms cults. Their robust nature and ease of cultivation have made them popular for centuries.
Guzmán, Gastón (2012). “New Taxonomical and Ethnomycological Observations on Psilocybe S.S. From Mexico, Africa and Spain”. Acta Botanica Mexicana. 100: 79–106