|Expert links:||"Rozites" caperatus||C. violaceus||Hypogeous|
If you thought I was crazy for trying to show you how to identify Russulas, you're really going to think I'm crazy now. Cortinarius is possibly the largest genus of macrofungi, with thousands of species found so far, and more being described all the time. This is historically the most difficult genus to identify to species, with most people who can otherwise identify almost anything else willing to say "It's a Cortinarius, who knows?" (It is also not uncommon for someone to think that of Russula, Inocybe, Psathyrella and the Entolomataceae family). Learning Cortinarius is often saved for last (I did!), but there are many interesting Corts that can be identified without a microscope and you can learn at least something interesting about most of them that you find. Many of them are quite beautiful - there are literally hundreds of purple Corts, for instance.
With one important exception, Cortinarius is identified by having a web-like cortina in place of the regular partial veil which is usually a fleshy membrane. Many other coloured spored genera have also more or less developed a cortina, but Cortinarius will also often have a rusty orange tint to their brown spores and is almost always found on the ground, not on wood (they are mycorrhizal). Mushrooms with rusty orange spores and a cortina growing on wood usually belong to Gymnopilus. Phaeolepiota spores can look bright like Cortinarius too. If the cortina is gone and the spores are ordinary brown, you might not recognize one but might mistake it for Inocybe, Hebeloma or Agrocybe.
The famous "cortina" cobweb veil, covered in rusty orange brown spores. Less than half of it is still attached.
Seeing rusty threads near the top of the stem can be a clue that your mushroom had a cortina with rusty spores (see the photos of C. violaceus).
Historically, because there are so many of them, Cortinarius was broken up into a few subgenera. As modern molecular analysis has started to be done, we now realize that this really isn't the way to divide up the genus, as the members of each subgenus are not necessarily related to each other. I will address this as we go through them to give you an idea of what is known about the real relationships of the mushrooms so far. These subgenera, however, are still a useful way to think about the genus, since it forces you to notice important things about the mushroom.
We always say that it is best to have many different samples of a mushroom, young and old, to identify it correctly, but this is especially true of Cortinarius. You need to find young ones, as the colour of the young gills is often one of the only distinguishing features. By the time those rusty brown spores mature on the gills, any delicate lilac or yellow colour will be lost. Another feature some Corts have is a universal veil that may leave colourful membranous material on the stem. Some also have interesting odors. Some glow in UV light!
As usual, unless otherwise noted, these species may be found
in conifer or mixed conifer/
There are many more species than are described here. There are some cryptic species (several species masquerading as one, that cannot reliably be told apart without DNA sequencing). Reports on scarcity are guesses at best, since some species are seen often but not recognized. Some of the most common ones, in fact, are missing here, because the task of sorting out local Cortinarius is daunting in any location. Some of the included mushrooms have incorrect names which represent close species from Europe that are not exactly what can be found over here. We are fortunate to have Dr. Joe Ammirati of the University of Washington in our region, who is one of the few experts on Cortinarius in the world and helping to solve the mysteries of Cortinarius for us.
|Identifying Corts in the spring is much easier - there are much fewer species: some common ones and their traditional subgenus are: C. thiersii (D), C. vernicosus (M), C. subolivascens grp (B), C. parkeri grp and C. clandestinus grp (L), C. vernus grp - C. ahsii grp - C. brunneovernus grp - C. flavobasilis grp (T). However, almost anything might fruit in spring under the right conditions.|
Key to Cortinarius "types", showing the background colour of each section (to help you not get lost).
"Rozites" caperatus - Gypsy mushroom - One of the only Cortinarius with a regular veil instead of a cortina. It turns out to be a true Cortinarius that just happened to evolve a membranous veil, but it is unclear how. You will probably look for it on a different page, but the rusty spores and growth on the ground still point to Cortinarius. Not hygrophanous, but sometimes with a hoary sheen to the cap. Resembles many poisonous Inocybe and Hebeloma.
Cortinarius violaceus - Let's start with everybody's favourite, the mushroom that got me wanting to identify mushrooms. Who can look at this and not want to know what it is? An entirely violet-black mushroom with a cap that has a unique dry, rough, velvety look, and with beautiful rusty spores, here shown caught in the remains of the cortina on the stem. This species is so different from every other Cort (not to mention every other mushroom anywhere) that it is sometimes considered a subgenus by itself. Cap size 5-10cm or so.
Hypogeous - a few species are evolving into truffles and remain partly underground. These are different than the gastroid corts that are smaller and misshapen. They are notable for their large size and the extremely tough, elastic cortina that does not break easily. Many are related to C. calochrous, but all are Phlegmacium-like. They are usually found in the spring.
C. magnivelatus - white, thick white veil hardly ever breaks. (/Calochroi)
C. wiebeae - similar, gills browner (/???)
Dermocybe - this is a good group of mushrooms actually related to each other. The red, orange or yellow gills have a special aura of brightness about them when young. So many Cortinarius are beautifully coloured that you may mistake a "regular" Cort for one of these, especially since the orange spores eventually colour the gills of most any Cortinarius a nice bright orange. But the Dermocybes have a stature or "look" about them that you can learn to recognize. The caps are dry and not hygrophanous. Small, usually <5cm. KOH oftens turns parts of these mushrooms brilliant colours, which can be used to help identify a species.
Throw a bunch of these in boiling water and the water will soon become the
colour of the gills. Throw some wool into the pot, and the wool will be
permanently dyed. You can even add mordants to the water and/
Not a Dermocybe - just the regular Cortinarius rusty gills. Cap subtly different. Stem is too white.
Subtly brighter mature gills of Dermocybe (C. cinnamomeus). Cap and stem are also different. Young gills without spores show this best, as shown next.
C. californicus can look like a faded C. neosanguineus, but it is hygrophanous and really a Telamonia. It can be entirely reddish-brown.
There are probably >40 species of Dermocybe found in the PNW so far, in great need of study. Until then, here are a representative sample of some common and distinctive ones. First, the red-gilled Dermocybes.
The yellow- and orange-gilled species are artificially grouped. Species with similar coloured gills are not necessarily more closely related to each other than they are to those with different coloured gills, but it is an important feature to note.
C. croceus grp - bright yellow young gills turn orange and then resemble the cinnamomeus grp. Often yellow stems.
C. thiersii - the most common spring member of the group.
C. aureifolius - found in sandy soil, resembles an Inocybe.
Myxacium - These mushrooms have viscid stems as well as viscid caps. When they are old or dry the stem will not be sticky anymore. You might be able to detect that the stem used to be viscid by debris that is stuck to the stem (see C. vernicosus) just like you can sometimes tell a formerly viscid cap from debris that is stuck to the cap, but this does not always work. Fortunately, the stems are usually cylindrical, whereas the Phlegmaciums (that only have sticky caps but just might occasionally have a sticky stem too) usually have clavate to bulbous stems that are wider at the bottom. Some of those, the Bulbopodiums, actually have quite a drastic bulb. Small, bitter Corts are likely to be found here. The caps are smooth and not hygrophanous.
C. collinitus (muscigenus) - orange-brown cap, white young gills, purple young stem, 3-8cm. Resembles C. vanduzerensis, etc.
C. mucosus - orange-brown cap, whitish young gills, but white stem. <10cm. Resembles C. brunneoalbus but stockier and sometimes darker.
C. pinguis, a related gastroid Cort.
closest relative of Myxacium, but microscopically lacking "clamp connections"
C. seidliae (seidlii) - cap wrinkled and darker than muscigenus, but not quite as dark as vanduzerensis.
C. 'stillatitus' ('pseudosalor') - like C. musigenus except a honey odor in the base of the stem.
C. brunneoalbus ('mucifluus') - no purple, macroscopically very similar to C. mucosus but smaller and more slender and with a paler cap.
C. pavelekii - related gastroid.
The following groups are unrelated but share the characters of Myxacium.
(The Phlegmacium C. sebaceus is a similar yellow species but has no bands and no lilac as well as a dry stem).
Small, ~2.5cm, sometimes larger, pale cap edges, very bitter slime on cap cuticle if you stick your tongue on it.
C. 'crystallinus' - whitish cap.
Phlegmacium - Viscid, usually smooth caps but usually dry stems. Look for debris stuck to the cap to determine if an old dry specimen used to be sticky. It's harder to tell if the stem was sticky, but most of these mushrooms have a bulbous stem base, sometimes remarkably so, unlike Myxacium. Those with abruptly marginate stem bases, although mentioned separately under Bulbopodium for convenience, do not actually represent a distinct related group. KOH turns many Phlegmaciums (and Bulbopodiums) yellowish, but sometimes other bright colours which can aid in identification. Look for species with very thick stems (everywhere, not just at the bottom) here for viscid caps and under Leprocybe for dry caps.
Usually club-shaped stems, viscid caps 3-8cm across. Also consider the Bulbopodiums, of which most members have a very exaggerated bulbous stem, although sometimes they do not.
Not all Phlegmaciums are officially part of the core Phlegmacium clades. I will list the section that each species is from (e.g. /Percomes) and put it in bold if it is not what I consider part of the core Phlegmacium clades (e.g. /Infracti).
C. occidentalis ('mutabilis') - all purple, stains purple where cut! Stem flesh wine-red in iodine (I+). (/Purpurascentes)
C. subfoetidus - more intense purple than C. 'salor', disc fading to tan, lilac sheathed stem, sugar odor! (/???)
C. papulosus - orange centred cap with white rim, patches of veil on stem.
C. castaneicolor - similar, very young gills & flesh blue. Viscid stem.
C. luteobrunnescens - yellow centred cap, viscid stem. (All /Phlegmacioides)
C. claricolor - large (<14cm), yellow- to chestnut-brown cap. A cylindrical stem like Myxacium separates this from most other Phlegmaciums. (/Phlegmacioides)
C. 'infractus' - sooty olive cap and gills when young. Bitter!
C. infractiflavus - yellow tones, less bitter. (/Infracti)
C. turmalis - large (<12cm), yellowish cap. Mycelium at the base may be pink. (/Turmalis?)
C. saginus - similar large yellow- to red-brown capped species that may have brown veil material on the stem instead of white. White mycelium. (/Phlegmacium)
C. albofragrans - white, cylindric stem (bigger than C. 'crystallinus'), odor like C. percomis. Under oak. (/Phlegmacioides)
C. argutus - whitish but stains yellow-brown in age, then resembles C. papulosus, etc. Hardwoods. Thinly viscid. Almost silky. Possible slightly rooting stem. (/Arguti)
Viscid species with uniformly thick and stocky stems, caps sometimes >10cm across. If the stem is not stocky, hopefully the cap will still be large.
C. balteatus - thick stocky stem, barely viscid, brown cap, hints of lilac. Pale young gills. (/Phlegmacioides)
C. balteatocumatilis - lilac velar material on stem, also barely viscid. Pale young gills. (/Phlegmacioides)
Bulbopodium - these mushrooms have long been considered part of Phlegmacium and not really a separate group, but for convience, all of the very marginate bulbed Phlegmaciums are grouped here to find them easily. The top of the stem is not as thick (hard to tell when very young), unlike the truly thick-stemmed species (compare C. balteatus with C. subolivascens). They are somewhat unreliably separated by having either white, lilac, yellow or olive-tinged young gills. The C. calochroi group below can be confused with almost all of these species, so be sure and consider them. All are usually from 3-8cm across, occasionally larger.
I will list the section name of each species, and if it is not part of the core group of Phlegmaciums, the section name will be in bold (e.g. /calochroi).
C. glaucopus grp - lilac young gills, streaky often copper cap, many species. C. fulvo-ochrascens is shown. Some have a cylindrical stem or little or no purple, and will be very hard to ID. (/Glaucopodes)
C. subolivascens grp - spring C. glaucopus members (the described species at high elevations), sometimes entirely streaky purple. (near /Glaucopodes)
C. montanus (sphagnophilus/
C. multiformis - whitish young gills (unlike C. variosimilis), bright orange-brown cap, possible honey odor. (/Multiformes)
C. callimorphus - cap turns red in KOH, no odor.
C. rufoallutus - stem stains red-brown.
C. caesiolamellatus - blue young gills & stem apex, honey odor, spruce & pine.
C. pallidirimosus - creamy yellow streaky cap, honey odor, with birch.
"/Calochroi" - these bulbous mushrooms are not related to all the other Bulbopodiums, but certainly look like they are. In fact, some are very hard to tell apart from the other Bulbopodiums.
C. piceae (calochrous ssp. coniferarum) - pale lilac gills when young but brighter yellower cap than C. glaucopus grp. No odor unlike C. multiformis grp. Often a bulb.
C. 'corrosus' - southern calochroi species.
C. perplexus - also southern, rosy pink KOH reaction. Oak.
C. olympianus - completely pale lilac, does not stain dark purple like C. purpurascens nor turn brown. Turns bright red in KOH.
C. guttatus - yellow to olive-yellow cap, young gills and stem, smells sweet like a dingy, bulby C. percomis. Yellow-green colours make this and the next group resemble C. montanus.
luteicolor grp (cupreorufus/
Sericeocybe - recognized by a dry, silky, satiny cap sheen that is not hygrophanous, often with lilac colouration somewhere. This is another artificial group of mushrooms not all related to each other. Usually up to 5 to 10cm across.
First, the /Anomali, often smaller and more slender than the others.
C. anomalovelatus ('anomalus'/
C. caninus - darker, brighter, brownish silky cap, lilac stem and young gills. No stem banding. Resembles C.malachius.
C. caesiifolius - C. caninus with dark stem banding, sometimes more fibrillose cap than the others..
C. spilomeus - resembles C. caesiifolius but has small bright red scales on the cap and banding the stem. <5cm.
Some Telamonias have brown caps and red stem banding as well.
Similar looking silky-capped mushrooms that are not related, but they all stand out due to unusual odors or colour staining.
C. violaceorubens grp ('cyanites') - >10cm, thick! a purple stemmed C. caninus, turns red and purple when cut. (/Cyanites)
The following sure look like Sericeocybe but are actually Telamonias that look much more interesting than your average Telamonia. Again, usually up to 5 to 10cm.
C. alboglobosus - missing any lilac, unlike C. alboviolaceus. Actually a Telamonia.
C. alboviolaceus - silver lilac like C. anomalus but usually bigger, lilac tinge to young gills, cap stays lilac, no bands. Hardwoods.
C. traganus - entirely lilac like C. camphoratus but smells like pears! Darker lilac than C. alboviolaceus. Brown flesh.
C. venustus - has a brown cap and sweet pear odor.
Lastly, in section /Phlegmaciodes is something that looks like a Sericeocybe but has a thinly viscid cap (easily overlooked) and sometimes a very stocky stem.
C. argutus, a Phlegmacium, is only thinly viscid and somewhat satiny and minutely fibrillose.
First we'll look at the true Leprocybes, and then the unrelated Corts that look like them.
C. clandestinus grp - black scales at least in the cap centre. Other species lack them. Yellow-green universal veil remants that can look like a volva. Spring and fall species.
An interesting black-olive coloured species in the clandestinus group. Unnamed. Spring and fall species.
C. subalpinus n.p. - also with a volva, more orange-brown with subtler black scales. Spring snowbank species.
C. parkeri - looks like a Telamonia with a smooth hygrophanous cap. Yellowish volva. Also spring.
C. flavobasilis/bridgei - similar spring Telamonias with yellow stem base which glows orange in UV.
These next species are not Leprocybes, but do have non-hygrophanous hairy or scaly caps. This next group usually have thick stems (so do a few viscid capped Phlegmaciums). One of these stain colours when cut. Microscopically, C. crassus and C. 'rubicundulus' share (along with C. violaceus) interesting cells called "cystidia" on the faces of the gills (not just the edges) which hardly exist in any other Cortinarius. Cap sometimes exceeding 10cm.
C. crassus - nondescript if not for the thick stem and hairy cap. The sub-species shown smells like green corn. Pale young gills. Sometimes viscid! (/???)
Three more unrelated species (to Leprocybe and to each other), also the typical <10cm across, sometimes have the Leprocybe look, some with interesting odors:
C. callisteus - usually bright orange with small scales when fresh, smells of hot motor oil! Stem often bulb shaped.
C. kroegeri ('limonius') - finely scaly?, hygrophanous like Telamonia, but usually yellow-orange. Yellow veil like C. rubellus but cap not as pointy and gills closer together. Stem often cylindrical. (/Limoni)
C. fillioni (valgus) - dark with subtle cap fibres, best ID'd by the odd radishy odor. Strongly resembles the C. brunneus grp. It is a Telamonia.
"Orellani" - yellow or orange-brown mushrooms. Somewhat umbonate, sometimes with a radish-like odor and coloured flesh inside, not pale. There may be yellow velar material on the stem and cap edges, unlike their lookalikes that do not have a coloured veil. This clade contains some of the most deadly poisonous mushrooms around, due to the toxin Orellanine. C. rubellus is deadly and a true "Orellani", but C. gentilis/saniosus, although they resemble one, are actually Telamonias (after all, the cap is smooth and somewhat hygrophanous).
Telamonia - the largest and arguably the most boring section of drab mushrooms with dry, smooth, hygrophanous caps. Being hygrophanous, the shade of brown can vary dramatically depending on age so they have a more inconsistent cap colour than the other groups, but they seem to come in 3 general colour schemes and 3 sizes: orange-brown, brown with violet and dark to pale ordinary brown. The small ones might average ~2.5cm, medium ~5cm, and large up to 8-10cm. The caps are usually slightly umbonate and there is often a universal veil of white or coloured material that may leave material on the stem. KOH will turn many of the heavily pigmented species almost black. Telemonias are actually mostly related to each other, along with a few others that were traditionally placed in Sericeocybe.
First of all, I will deal with a few that look like Telamonia but are actually not related. For the sea of similar Telamonias I will try to sort them out by placing them into a couple of colour groups - those with red coloured veils, those with bright orange tones and those without. Those ordinary brown Telamonias can sometimes be differentiated by violet tones or red banding on the stems, and also by their size.
C. kroegeri ('limonius') - finely scaly?, hygrophanous like Telamonia, but usually yellow-orange. Yellow veil like C. rubellus but cap not as pointy and gills closer together. Stem often cylindrical. (/Limoni)
C. renidens - barely a cortina (it's rarely noticed). Orange-brown like the smaller C. gentilis. Medium. Also compare the yellow-orange-brown C. obtusus and C. parvannulatus (/Renidentes)
C. obtusus grp - umbo, yellow-orange-brown, iodine odor? Whitish stem, sometimes striate margin. Small to medium. (/Obtusi)
Telamonia s.s. - OK, here goes. Unfortunately finding your Telamonia in this large group of related and similar drab mushrooms is not going to be easy. There's even a good chance that you have an undescribed or little understood species that is not yet documented and not even in this list.
These first few have reddish stem banding from the red universal veil that, when fresh, rescues them from obscurity. Mostly boring brown, sometimes more orange-capped. Difficult to ID if the banding has washed or rubbed off. These species are from unrelated sections of Telamonia and beyond. Also consider the brown capped, red banded Sericeocybes.
C. boulderensis - Small to Medium, <4cm.
C. badiovinaceus - KOH turns the bands purple in all species but this one, which is not a Telamonia. Medium, <6cm. (/Fulvescentes)
Next, the orange-brown species.
C. armeniacus - like C. renidens, but with a cortina & white stem, or like C. laniger but brighter cap and paler gills. Bulbous stem. Medium.
C. parvannulatus - cedar odor, different colour than C. gentilis with a ring of material left on the stem. Small.
Also consider C. colus above, with stem banding.
These next species are medium sized with noticeable violet tones, at least when young. Medium sized species without violet tones will come next, and finally small Telamonias (with or without dark violet colours). Also consider some species in the C. brunneus group, below.
C. lucorum - robust, distant gills, enlarged stem base? Poplar.
C. evernius - more slender, tapered stem. Conifers.
I'm afraid most of the rest are "just brown", and can be dark or light depending on how much moisture the cap has retained (they are hygrophanous after all). Those in this first group are mostly medium to large (>5cm). I seem to commonly find similar species that aren't any of the ones labelled here, so identifying some species in this group can be problematic.
C. duracinus - similar, with a long rooting stem. Large.
C. subbalaustinus - streaky cap, no veil sheath, no rooting stem, nondescript.
C. cacao-color - cocoa coloured everywhere, tapered stem. Large. Often has a nutty odor and a scaly cap like a Leprocybe. See C. fillioni.
C. fillioni (valgus) - dark with subtle cap fibres, best ID'd by the odd radishy odor. Strongly resembles the C. brunneus grp and C. cacao-color.
C. brunneus grp - Classic boring medium-large Telamonia, cap & stem brown, white veil. (C. valgus has an odor and cap fibres).
C. athabascus - coastal, lilac tones in youth, persisting in the stem flesh.
C. bovinus grp - fresh cap is paler, club stem base.
C. brunneovernus - spring brunneus. No lilac at all. Medium. Conifers.
C. politus - spring, some lilac.
C. uraceus - like C. brunneus, but darkens from greenish-brown to black in age. Medium.
C. nauseosouraceus - dark brown with yellow tinges, strong unpleasant smell.
C. parkeri - actually a Leprocybe but with a smooth hygrophanous cap. Yellowish volva. Also spring. Similar to Telamonias C. ahsii & C. flavobasilis, which also glow.
Formerly in Leprocybe. Spring, medium. Stem often paler than in C. brunneovernus, very similar to C. parkeri grp. C. ahsii's veil glows in UV (shown), C. colymbadinus' entire fruitbody glows in UV.
C. flavobasilis/bridgei - much like C. ahsii grp with yellow stem base which glows orange in UV. Spring. Medium.
I'm afraid some of these last small (~2.5cm) dull brown Telamonias are the most difficult of all to tell apart. Sometimes there is a hint of violet in the caps and stems like the larger C. evernius.
C. flabellus ('flexipes') - usually dark cap, umbonate, odor of geraniums, white veil material on cap and stem.
C. hemitrichus - white scales on the cap when dry, but no odor, closer gills.
|The last group are difficult to
C. casimiri (shown above) has a wrinkled cap, distant red-brown gills and white wooly veil remants all over the stem.
C. alnetorum (with alder) has a darker cap and flesh (and distant gills and white wooly veil remnants on the stem).
C. decipiens has a dark cap (at least in the centre) but fewer white veil remants on the stem, closer gills.
C. chrysomallus has bright yellow veil remnants on the stem.
C. bibulus - beautiful violet all over, pointy umbo, few widely spaced gills. Alder. Small!
|Also consider the red-banded species and whether or not it may have once had purple or orange tones but just faded. Good luck to you.|
I eagerly await the chance to tell you that a specialized publication on Cortinarius of the PNW has been created. There are European publications, such as Cortinarius Flora Photographica by Brandrud et. al., but even if you can find it it will cost you more than $500, and new volumes are still being added. The already mentioned Fungi of Switzerland Volume 5 has a particularly large collection of over 230 Cortinarius, each with a colour photo and drawings of microscopic features.