As more people become interested in mushroom cultivation, one item that often confuses new growers is the variety of strains, cultivars, and even species available from online suppliers. Whether it’s Golden Teachers, B+, or Penis Envy, there’s a lot to take in and grasp for those just getting started—after all, not everyone has a degree in mycology. Add to that some of the more “marketing-focused” sellers’ crazier claims about variances in effects like euphoria, introspection, or prompted spiritual epiphanies, and it’s easy to see why many beginning growers can often encounter decision paralysis when deciding which spores to start with. In this post, we’ll aim to simplify science and demystify marketing, so you may make the best-informed decision possible and address the question, “what’s in a strain name?”
First, you must differentiate between species, strain, and cultivar when choosing spores. Some vendors and less experienced people use these names similarly, but each has a special meaning.
Species are the simplest. Species are different genetic lineages that generally cannot interbreed, but there are exceptions like the liger (lion + tiger) and the mule (horse + donkey). We’re not aware of any psychoactive mushroom hybrids. Most of our understanding of species differences is based on their genetic content, which can be evaluated in the lab and used to compare genetic similarities. There’s still plenty to learn about genetics and potency, even at the species level, with reclassifications of species names and conflicting data on alkaloid content.
When buying spores, check for the Latin name Psilocybe cubensis, the most popular magic mushroom. Genus (e.g., Psilocybe) are followed by species (e.g., cubensis) for Latin names. When spores have different Latin names, you know you have separate species. Remember, just as you can’t mix a fly with a human, you can’t naturally cross Psilocybe cubensis with Mexicana.
Once we get beyond species, we lose some knowledge and confidence. Terms like strain and variation are disputed by current biologists, with each field having its definition. In addition, some vendors create new strains and cultivars without stating why they’re different. All strains should be from the same species (typically Psilocybe cubensis) and can interbreed freely. Penis Envy and B+ were deliberately interbred to create Tidal Wave mushrooms, which won the April 2021 Oakland Hyphae Psilocybin Cup (but more on this later).
Interbreeding by expert growers can create albino and sporeless Psilocybe cubensis, among other variations. A separate strain should have stable traits that can be recreated in every growth project. Just because you developed a funky-looking shroom doesn’t mean you’ve isolated a new strain unless you can grow the same traits repeatedly. This is why strains must be cloned. When you produce mushroom spores, you shake up the genetics, and the mycelium may not be identical to the parent mushroom.
This leads to cultivars, or “cultivated varieties.” Instead of clones, these are created from spores. Each spore has a random mix of half the parent mushroom’s genetic material. Therefore mycelium formed from spores of a defined strain will have distinct genetic traits. Repeat this method enough times, taking spores from each successful grow, and your mushroom genetics may “drift” so far that the original strain’s features are lost. This isn’t always bad; it can lead to fascinating mutations when the mushroom growing gets boring (though we haven’t experienced this yet!). By extracting spores from each generation and selecting for growth rate, substrate choice, and potency, cultivars can be stabilized by selective breeding. In contrast to cloned strains, cultivars show more variety between generations.
Penis Envy mushrooms vs. Golden Teacher mushrooms have cultivation and dose differences. Some consider Penis Envy stronger than Golden Teacher mushrooms, but their potency varies widely. These discrepancies are likely attributable to differences in growth circumstances and post-harvest handling. Start with a lesser dose and modify as needed. For a more scientific approach, use a psilocybin potency test kit.
Both mushroom kinds are Psilocybe cubensis. Thus their growing requirements are comparable. Some say Penis Envy takes slower to colonize than other varieties, but others say it grows as fast. Genetics and the growth environment affect growing time. Penis Envy forms masses of deformed mushroom tissue (so-called “blobs”), especially in earlier flushes. Hence some growers apply a casing layer to encourage complete mushrooms. Most types, like Golden Teacher, don’t have this oddity and can thrive without a casing.
Penis Envy and Golden Teacher look different. Golden Teachers resemble wild Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms. Penis Envy has been subject to decades of selective breeding and looks different than its wild-growing relatives—think of a purebred French bulldog and a wolf. Penis Envy’s tiny gills generate fewer spores, making prints challenging. Golden Teacher dumps a dense carpet of purple-black spores, making it suitable for printing.
Golden Teacher and B+ are two kinds that share many similarities across a range of traits, including growth needs and potency. Both mushroom types have a lengthy and mostly forgotten history, presumably reaching back much more profound in time than the online fungus cultivation forums in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Although B+ was formerly supposed to be a cross-breed of Psilocybe cubensis and the wood-loving Psilocybe azurescens, this is now a myth due to the minimal genetic possibility of getting these two different species to interbreed.
Due to their long and widespread cultivation, both Golden Teacher and B+ are highly recommended by Fungushead for beginner growers searching for a starting variety—though this may be due to how long their spores have been in circulation within the growing community. Both species grow well on grain-based starter substrates and bulk substrates such as coir and dung. As most growers start with spores, there can be a significant bit of diversity in the look of both Golden Teachers and B+, which can sometimes overlap to the point that even expert growers can’t tell them apart. One exception is the recent spike in a B+ mutation that allows the mushrooms to produce tiny “hats”—fuzzy outgrowths of mycelium on the cap. If these develop in your growth, there’s little to worry about, as it’s perfectly harmless.
How does all this affect potency? Although breeding unique growth features may look nice, most shroom-folk are interested in potency. Genetic features tend to be independent of one other, so while some growers may say that potent mushroom strains are invariably albino, there’s no evidence that this is accurate.
When it comes to species, what we know about variances in potency (psilocybin and other alkaloid content) originates from early scientific studies that have been added to by more recent research as interest in psychedelics has expanded. With this data, we can state that Psilocybe azurescens is one of the most potent naturally-occurring species. The potency of wild and farmed species might differ by four and 10, respectively.
Until recently, strain potency was a mystery. Many mushroom experts said Penis Envy was one of the most potent strains, but they used anecdotal self-experimentation without research-grade evidence.
As with other Psilocybe cubensis types, the period from spores to mushrooms depends on your growth method and the temperature of your surroundings. Optimal temperatures of 75-80°F (24-26.5°C) should give you results in one to two months. This will primarily be waiting time early in the project, so keep that in mind if you’re planning a trip.