The Trouble with Names & Colors & Descriptions

At home in the woods

At home in the woods

One of the challenges of trying to learn mushrooms’ names is that they keep changing.  By the time a book is published, the mushroom’s name may have been popped from one genus into another — and sometimes back again.  And sometimes they just change the name altogether based on new studies.

So species’ names can be a nightmare to get right!

Remember the purple mushroom I posted a photo of a few days ago?  I thought I had the name aced.  Then Dave, the mushroom expert on my board wrote this:

Small orange mushroom--whose name I don't know yet.  :)

Small orange mushroom–whose name I don’t know yet. 🙂

There is a southern NA species that looks just like Cortinarius iodes, except it isn’t. The name is Cortinarius iodiodes (not kidding), which means “looks like Cortinarius iodes.” The difference between the two species is strictly academic.

We’ve been going back and forth trying to identify this yellow suillus.  The concensus is that it’s probably a Chicken Fat Suillus (Suillus americanus), even though it is supposed to be very slimy.  And the ones

Suillus americanus (Chicken Fat Suillus)

Suillus americanus (Chicken Fat Suillus)

I’ve found are not at all slimy.  Also, going by the color descriptions in the books doesn’t help a lot.

The following is from Michael Kuo’s Mushroom Expert site:

… depending on the amount of sunlight and the precipitation the color of individual fruiting bodies varied from one weather period to the next (even in a single day).

Or as Dave Fischer, the author of Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America, once emailed me in response to my question about why one of my mushroom photos didn’t look like the same mushroom in his book: “They don’t know that they are supposed to look exactly like the ones in the book.”  😀


  1. Horst Kelly

     /  August 28, 2013

    I’m amazed at the variety of mushrooms you have in your area…as I have mentioned before..I love them as part of my diet….is there one book I should get that would help me figure out the good from the bad ….so when I’m out camping I would have the ability to “pick & eat” some….or do I need to be confined to a supermarket(lol)…again thanks for sharing your knowledge…Horst sends


    • Horst, the VERY best book for beginners is David Fischer’s Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America. If you follow the simple keys he has before each mushroom description, you cannot poison yourself. I have an entire library of wonderful mushroom books, but his is the one I started with and it is still one of my favorites.

      He used to be very approachable by email years ago, but apparently got too inundated with mail to do that anymore.

      If I remember correctly, you live near Austin? I just did a search and Austin has a mushroom club there. They are the BEST place for a beginner to learn. They usually have a mycologist who will identify mushrooms found on forays. It would be a fun way to learn in the field and would keep you from making mistakes.

      Texas Wild Mushrooming Group

      Austin, TX
      555 Mushroomers

      Howdy!This group is for those interested in hunting mushrooms and the science of mycology. We focus on exploring the fungi of central Texas, and in the safe identification of…

      Check out this Meetup Group →

      But do get the book! I can’t recommend it highly enough.

      PS… sorry about the ad. Every time I put a link to something at Amazon they insert an ad. I have no financial interest!


      • Thanks so much…I’ll be getting the book “post-haste”…and I’ll also look into club…sounds like fun…again thanks,,,have a great day…Horst sends


  2. EmilyO

     /  August 28, 2013

    Yes, you must live in a mushroom connoisseurs hog heaven – not sure if all those descriptive words go together, but you get what I mean.


    • Emily, it’s entirely dependent on soil moisture. During our drought years I didn’t find much of anything. Now everywhere I walk in the woods there is some kind of mushroom. I don’t post all the boring photos–just the ones I think most people will enjoy. 🙂


  3. I love the orange one. I guess I am just into colors.

    I picked up that fan foam yesterday it is being discontinue and was $10 cheaper than listed price. Just thought I’d throw that in.


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