6 Steps to Identify Wine Cap Stropharia + Lookalikes

Several types of mushrooms could grow in one spot, as they compete for space like anything else—so when foraging or growing wine cap mushrooms, it’s vital to identify them so you don’t eat the wrong one.

The purpose of this identification guide is to assist you in harvesting Stropharia rugosoannulata mushrooms based on their characteristics and look-a-like species. This guide does not replace your own research and judgment when harvesting and eating mushrooms—For this, you are solely responsible.

A large cluster of wine caps growing from their favorite substrate/habitat; wood chips.

Below is a quick wine cap identification checklist so you can see a brief overview of what to look for and what to avoid. After, you’ll be able to read more detailed information.

Wine cap Identity checklist:Features
Range:Northeastern North America
Habitat:Wood chips and grass
Temperature range:To fruit: 50-70°F (10-22°C)
Cap:Attached to the stem, deep purple in color, covered by a veil when very young
Gills:Attached to the stem, deep purple in color, covered by a white veil when very young
Stalk:1-6″ tall and 1-2″ thick, white with remnants of a veil at collar level
Spore Print:Dark purple to grey-black in color
Look-a-like #1:Agrocybe sp. at first glance could look like a mature wine cap, beige cap color with veil remnants on white stem; difference is brown gill color and brown spore print
Look-a-like #2:Agaricus sp. has white stem, and remnant of veil on collar, caps are brown, white or speckled with brown/black; the difference is pink gill color
A quick and easy checklist to identify wine cap mushrooms

Even if you’re growing your own wine caps and you know for sure that you’ve ‘planted’ them in a specific spot, it’s still essential that you go through a simple checklist like this to ensure you’re getting the right mushroom—Just because you ‘planted’ something, doesn’t mean ‘weeds’ (other mushrooms) won’t grow!

If you’re foraging, but dying to grow wine caps, here’s everything you’ll need to know, including where to get them:

See: Complete Guide to Grow and Use Wine Cap Mushrooms

A top view of a wine cap cluster with crimson/burgundy red colored caps.

Where wine caps will grow: habitat

King Stropharia mushrooms grow natively in Northeast North America, but as a popular easy-to-grow species, they are growing in various other countries and continents including the UK, Asia, Australia, and more.

Australia has classified them as an invasive species since they aren’t native there and will take over any area with wood chips!

While wine caps favor wood chips, they also thrive in grasses. That’s why they can be planted with either or both wood chips and straw as a substrate.

They favor the fair and temperate climate of North America that ranges from zones 3-9 and tend to naturally thrive in the East where hardwood and humidity are abundant. They can, however, grow in hotter regions too.

Wine cap mycelium grows well in above-zero temperatures. Once established, they fruit between 50-70°F (10-22°C).

What about winter?

All mushrooms survive, grow, and fruit in various conditions and growing zones depending on species preference. Wine caps survive very cold winters and tolerate quite low-temperature ranges.

Wine cap mycelium has demonstrated winter survival in Zone 3 with temperatures from -50 to -40 degrees °F (-46 to -40°C). Established mycelium lives after being frozen but is best placed in an area that receives snow and mulch the area every autumn for further protection.

It’s possible that they could survive colder conditions, however, I myself have not tested or seen it.

Identifying Wine Cap Stropharia Step by Step

Wine caps are beginner-level mushroom to identify. They have unique characteristics and you only need to look for six of them.

To identify wine caps, look for a burgundy-beige colored cap ranging from 1-12 inches in width, with grey-purple gills and dark-purple spore print. The height ranges from 3-8 inches and has a ring on the collar of its thick white stem. The ring will often have fragments of what was a veil.

To find and confirm all of these features, follow 6 easy steps:

  1. Observe the cap
  2. Examine the gills
  3. Inspect the stem
  4. Check for a ring or annulus
  5. Collect a spore print
  6. A key distinguishing feature

Observe the cap: When we observe the cap on a young wine cap mushroom, it would appear to be a rich burgundy red with a bell shape.

Young wine caps with a rich burgundy-red color and a bell-shaped cap

Mature wine caps may still have a burgundy color but can be beige or a faded beige sometimes with cracks. The shape of the cap also flattens as it matures—as the sides unfurl the bell shape disappears and even turns into a ‘bowl.’

Mature wine caps with faded coloring, unfurled edges, and a flat or bowl-shaped cap.

Examine the gills: The gills are crowded, attached to the stem, and are most often found as a lavender grey-purple color. Young wine caps have pale gills and with maturity become darker.

An underside view of wine caps that shows the pattern and color of the gills.

Inspect the stem: The stem is white, sometimes with speckles of dark purple spore print, or often an off-white pale yellow.

A close-up of the stem, annulus (ring), and remnants of the wine cap mushrooms

Collect a spore print: The spore print of a wine cap is dark purple to black in appearance. If you catch a wine cap actively releasing spores, you’ll notice your fingertips are black with ink, or the cap below another is stained. To collect a spore print, place a mushroom on white paper with gills face down and wait.

Check for a ring or annulus: In younger specimens, you’ll see wagon wheel (pictured above) remnants still attached in a ring around the stem, even partially attached to the edges of the cap. Even if the remnants of the veil have completely shed off the stem, you’ll still see a distinct ring at the collar (first 1-2cm) of the stem.

A key distinguishing feature: The key distinguishing feature, as many Stropharia mushrooms have ‘veil remnants’ is the tooth-shaped veil fragments. This is a key positive ID for the S. rogusoannulata—wine caps!

Wine caps versus look-alike species

Hundreds of species have similar characteristics to wine cap mushrooms and most of them fall under two categories (genus).

  • Agaricus is a genus of mushrooms that contains both edible and poisonous species. Mushrooms in this genus have similar characteristics to the Stropharia genus.

Similarly, Stopharia mushrooms, Agaricus species have stems, a partial veil, and a ring (annulus) on the collar (upper stalk).

The signifying difference that tells you it’s of the Agaricus genus is a chocolate-brown spore print.

Katja Schulz / Agaricus
  • Agrocybe is a genus of mushrooms under the same family as wine caps; Strophariaceae.

Being from the same family, Strophariaceae, they tend to enjoy the same food; decaying plant materials such as wood.

This family also has common characteristics like red-brown to dark-brown spore prints, slimy caps, and a partial veil.

The signifying difference of the Agrocybe genus includes a brown spore print.

Mushrooms of the Agrocybe species also don’t tend to have burgundy red caps and the veil remnants are often on the edges of the cap rather than the stalk.

Agrocybe mushrooms, however, can have light brown/beige colored caps, and with cracking, at maturity that may look very similar to a mature wine cap that has gone pale in color.

Dick Culbert / Agrocybe cylindracea

The good news: Species under agaricus and agrocybe genera are more likely to be confused with one another, between edible and poisonous species. Wine caps, however, are quite obvious and much less likely to be mistaken for poisonous species—as long as you confirm all the ‘checks.’

If you’re ever unsure about identifying a mushroom use a local foragers Facebook group!

Scientific Classification of Wine Cap Stropharia

Every discovered type of fungus is identified by a structured taxonomy system.

Wine Caps are scientifically known as Stropharia rugosoannulata, which belongs to the following taxonomy and classification:

Kingdom: Fungi

  • Wine Caps are a fungus. The fungi kingdom obtains nutrients by absorbing organic matter.

Phylum/Division: Basidiomycota

  • Of seven phyla/divisions, Basidiomycota includes wine caps. Any mushroom with reproductive structures called ‘basidia’ is classified under the Basidiomycota branch.
  • A basidium is a spore-producing structure.

Class: Agaricomycetes

  • This class includes several mushroom-forming fungi, often with gills or pores on the underside of their fruiting bodies/caps. Wine caps, of course, form mushrooms and have gills!

Order: Agaricales

  • The Agaricales order includes genetically related species of mushrooms.

Family: Strophariaceae

  • Wine Caps belong to the Strophariaceae family. This family contains saprotrophic mushrooms with common characteristics of either; red-brown to dark-brown spore prints, slimy caps, and a partial veil.
  • ‘Saprotrophic’ mushrooms, such as wine caps, feed on decaying plant material such as wood and grasses, and wine caps certainly fit the bill.

Genus: Stropharia

  • The genus Stropharia includes various mushroom species, and the characteristic they all share is remnants of a veil on the stem
  • Stropharia rugosoannulata is one of them. These mushrooms have ring-like remnants on the stem from the veil that covered young gills.

Species: Stropharia rugosoannulata

  • The wine cap mushroom is scientifically referred to as ‘Stropharia rugosoannulata.’ A species is named using a Genus-species format.
  • “Rugosoannulata” describes the key distinctive feature of the wine cap mushroom—the wrinkled ring on the stem. ‘Rugoso’ means wrinkled and ‘annulata’ is ring.

The Wine Cap mushroom, scientifically known as Stropharia rugosoannulata, is classified under the Kingdom Fungi, Phylum Basidiomycota, Class Agaricomycetes, Order Agaricales, Family Strophariaceae, and Genus Stropharia. Its unique species name, “rugosoannulata,” refers to its distinctive features—the wrinkled/rough textured ring.

Common names

Wine cap mushrooms have many common names due to their distinct features! Each name highlights an obvious fact about the mushroom. Here are the most common names and what they signify:

  1. Wine Cap Mushroom: This name reflects the bold wine-red to burgundy-colored cap that is one of the defining features of this mushroom species.
  2. King Stropharia: The term “king” emphasizes the large size of this mushroom—similar to king oysters as they are also large.
  3. Burgundy Mushroom: Refers to the coloration of the cap; another name for a color!
  4. Garden Giant: This name highlights the fact that wine caps are, or can be, huge. I’ve harvested one bigger than my face with a 3-inch thick stem, but others have found caps at 12-inches wide.
  5. Wine Cap Stropharia: Combines the common name “Wine Cap” with the genus name “Stropharia” for clarity in identification.

Maybe a new name like “cluster cap mushrooms” should be a thing since they grow so prolifically!

Mature and immature wine cap mushrooms growing in a cluster

Up Next: Grow a Mushroom Garden at Home in 4 Steps


While Rachelle's hands are clean for the keyboard, she enjoys writing and designing creative content and resources. You will most likely find her outside planting a cabbage, foraging berries for breakfast, and collecting herbs for year-round tea or making food.

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