Psilocybe azurescens has a short but fabled history. It was said to have been originally found by Boy Scouts in 1979, while camping in the state of Oregon in the USA. While this species has a very restricted natural range, only found in the Pacific Northwest of America, it is generally regarded as one of the most potent mushrooms available.
Along with P. subaeruginosa, this species has very high levels of many active compounds. Psilocybin, psilocin, baeocystin and norbaeocystin are all found in quantities that are two- to three-fold higher than the popular P. cubensis. This makes only one gram of dried material a potentially very large dose; those ingesting P. azurescens will be grateful, as the species is known to have an extremely bitter taste hidden by a mild scent.
Known as “flying saucers” due to their unique shape, these fungi have a relatively variable size and appearance. While usually small compared to other species of Psilocybe, they can grow up to ten centimetres across on the cap and twenty centimetres tall. These variable caps are prone to pitting or dark spots with age, with the even edges becoming irregular and eroded. Further, they are sticky or slippery when wet, making their collection after rainfall or morning dew difficult.
They are often recognized by their intensely golden-coloured cap as well as the presence of a distinct but broad umbo. The umbo is one of the few ways to differentiate P. azurescens from its cousin P. cyanescens, which lacks it. Both have strong bluing reactions to handling or damage, a common feature of most Psilocybe species.
P. azurescens has a few other distinct features that are able to assist in its identification. The stipe is hollow, more-so with age, and usually has some twists or turns along its length, with bends or curves common near the base. Near its attachment to the ground, aerial mycelium is common, often blue due to its exposure to light. Alongside, rhizoids frequently are found, root-like structures of modified mycelium.
These rhizoids, along with a generally tight and strong mycelium, allows P. azurescens to hold together clumps of its substrate like the roots of a plant. This suits their preference of habitat, usually loose and decaying wood or in sandy soils near dunes and sea grasses. These specific grasses that are frequently found near P. azurescens provide an ample source of tryptamine, the precursor for all the alkaloids produced by Psilocybe species.
They are commonly found in bunches or clusters, though may occasionally be found alone. They are native to the western American states of Oregon, California and Washington, especially near the Colombia River delta. Likely due to amateur outdoor cultivation, a few small, stable feral colonies of P. azurescens have even been identified in Germany as early as 2001. While it can be considered as an invasive species, it has been suggested that P. azurescens has a capacity for “bioremediation”; it may be able to absorb or transform various toxins from oils to pesticides.