Identification: Psilocybe semilanceata - Liberty Cap

The last liberty cap of the season The Last Liberty - Image Courtesy of Psilocybinism

Common Names: liberty cap, witch's hat.

Cap: 5-2.5 cm broad. Conic to obtusely conic to conic-campanulate to campanulate with an acute umbo. Margin translucent-striate, incurved and sometimes undulated in young fruiting bodies, often darkened by spores. Colour variable, extremely hygrophanous. Usually dark chestnut brown when moist, soon drying to a light tan or yellow, occasionally with an olive tint. Surface viscid when moist from a separable gelatinous pellicle.

Gills: Attachment mostly adnexed, close to crowded, narrow. Colour pallid at first, rapidly becoming brownish and finally purplish brown with the edges remaining pallid.

Stem: 40-100 mm long by .75 - 2mm thick. Slender, equal, flexuous, and pliant. Pallid to more brownish towards the base, where the attached mycelium may become bluish tinged, especially during drying. Surface smooth overall. Context stuffed with a fibrous pith. Partial veil thinly cortinate, rapidly deteriorating, leaving an obscure evanescent annular zone of fibrils, usually darkened by spores. Often, this zone is entirely absent.

Habit, Habitat and distribution: Scattered to gregarious in the fall in pastures, fields, lawns, or other grassy areas, especially rich grasslands grazed by sheep and cows. This mushroom is especially abundant in or about clumps of sedge grass in the damper parts of fields. It can be found west of the Cascades from Northern California to British Columbia in the fall to early winter, and to a much lesser degree in the spring along the coastal areas of Oregon and Washington. Redhead (1989) notes several sitings from New Foundland and Nova Scotia. Appears from late summer through the late fall in the northern latitudes. Reported in grassland habitats in Europe (France, Holland, Italy, Norway, and Switzerland), South Africa, Chile, northern India, Australia, and Tasmania. Guzman, Bandala, and King (1993) reported the species from New Zealand, with specimens collected in the month of May. Johnston and Buchanan (1996) reported P.semilanceata only from high-altitude grasslands from the South Island of New Zealand.

Some beautiful Liberty Caps basking on a sunny morning Liberty Caps contain a powerful magic

Comments: Moderately active to extremely potent. In the Pacific Northwest, this species is one of the most common of active Psilocybes, and perhaps the easiest for amateurs to identify. Gartz (1993) reported an average of 1% psilocybin, with a range of .2 - 2.37%, the highest psilocybin content yet reported. Cultivated fruit bodies yielded a maxima of 1.12% psilocybin, no psilocin, and 0.21% baeocystin. In separate studies, Gartz (1994) reported up to 0.98% psilocybin. The high psilocybin and low psilocin probably accounts for its long storage life with many user's reporting it is still potently active even years after picking. The same study also showed this species is also relatively high in baeocystin (.36%). Christian et al (1981) found variation of psilocybin in dried specimens, 0.17 - 1.96%, with the youngest specimens being the most potent on a dry weight basis. Gartz (1986) also reported that psilocybin content was not adversely affected by the drying process. Since P. semilanceata is low in psilocin, a co-indicator, it rarely bruises bluish. In this species the strength of the bluing reaction is not an indication of activity, unlike the majority of potent species, which are comparatively higher in psilocin.

Several distinct varieties of P.semilanceata can be encountered. The archetypal variety is easy to recognize macroscopically. However, it's many forms can be confusing. Most forms have conic to campanulate caps with a sharp umbo. One unusually large form, probably P.semilanceata, with a pronounced incurved margin and contorted bell-shaped cap, occasionally surfaces late in the season in the Pacific Northwest. One has even been seen that looks dangerously close to a Galerina, but is in fact a denuded, nearly sporeless, orange from of P.semilanceata. It should be strongly noted that woodland Galerinas can coexist in the same habitat as grassland Psilocybes, especially in lands recently converted to pasture. Psilocybe strictipes is a similar species, but lacks the distinctive umbo typical of P.semilanceata P.semilanceata is to temperate grasslands what Psilocybe mexicana is to subtropical grasslands. An interesting ecological study by Keay and Brown (1990) illustrates the close relationship of P.semilanceata to the rhizomes of grasses.

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