This post will focus on the mushroom genus Tylopilus, which contains some intriguing and very pretty mushrooms. Tylopilus mushrooms are common in the eastern United States, although there are a some species that occur in the western U.S. as well.
This is the second in an ongoing and intermittent series of blog posts about identifying mushrooms to genus; the first addressed Amanita mushrooms, and in the future I will add more common genera.
The purpose of this approach is to help novice mushroom hunters get a handle on identification to genus because at that point, you’ll find that using a field guide becomes a lot less of a hassle. Once you grasp the gestalt of a mushroom genus like Tylopilus, getting to a correct species identification becomes much easier.
I figured I would write about Tylopilus because mushrooms of this genus are common and fairly easy to set apart from other bolete-type mushroooms, and although Tylopilus mushrooms will never make it into my top 10 edible wild mushrooms. Furthermore, some of their traits are enticingly similar to delicious Boletus mushrooms, but sadly they’re not the real McCoy (more on this below). Nonetheless, Tylopilus mushrooms are visually striking and quite abundant during mushroom season, and many of them grow in yards, parks, and playgrounds, because evidently they are not nearly as shy as some of North Carolina’s more secretive mushrooms, such as morels and black trumpets. So with no further ado, let’s dive in and talk Tylopilus!
Yours In Fungal Fancy,
Tylopilus Mushrooms – An Overview
Although not exhaustive, here are 5 key features that many Tylopilus mushrooms share that should tip you off that you’re likely in possession of one. More detail is provided below.
- Pink, lilac, or purplish spongy flesh under the cap that often starts out white or pallid: If you’ve got a mushroom with a spongy layer of fertile tissue under the cap and it’s tinged with these colors, you probably have a Tylopilus of some sort.
- Dry cap: Tylopilus mushrooms typically do not have slimy, goopy cap surfaces. Several of them are finely velvety when young, and a few also have a bit of powdery white material on them when they’re babies (this is called a bloom).
- Lack of a ring on the stem: Mushrooms in this genus lack a ring on the stem
- Purple, brown-purple, violet, or lilac cap when young: Although not universally the case, lots of Tylopilus species have cheerful purple-pink coloration. As they age, they often turn dingy, so it’s best to find young specimens to figure out what the “original color” of the cap was.
- Bitter to taste: Again, this is not absolute, but many of the 70+ species of Tylopilus are bitter to the taste. A few are edible and mild, but if you taste a bolete-type mushroom with some of the above features and it makes you go ICK BITTER, there’s a darn good chance it’s Tylopilus.
Tylopilus Within the Context of the Boletaceae Family
Mushrooms in the Tylopilus genus are members of the Boletaceae, which is a large genetic family of mushrooms that have the classic cap-and-stem form. The thing that sets mushrooms in Boletaceae apart from other mushrooms is the fertile surface of the fruiting body that produces spores. Instead of gills, false gills, or pores, Tylopilus mushrooms and other Boletaceae species have a spongy layer underneath their caps that is made up of a multitude of little tubes of flesh that expel spores as the mushroom matures.
Tylopilus mushrooms tend to have pinkish, lilac, reddish, or in some rare instances, chocolate-reddish spores, which is a primary identification feature if you’re trying to pin down the genus of a bolete-type mushroom that you’ve found. Another thing that often is a tell that you have found a Tylopilus mushroom is the color of the flesh; although not universally the case, a number of these mushrooms are purplish in color; some are black-purple (as with Tylopilus alboater, an edible mushroom described below), others are brownish with lilac-tinged pores (as with Tylopilus fellus, a decidedly inedible mushroom that’s too bitter to even consider for the table).
In general, Tylopilus mushrooms can be quite enticing to mushroom hunters because their pore surface starts out white, which is a key identification feature for Boletus edulis, Boletus rex veris, and other porcini-type mushrooms. However, for the eastern U.S. mushroom hunter, these white-pored mushrooms should not fool you; after all, we do not have any true porcini in North Carolina (at least none that I have seen reported), so a white sponge is not really a feature you should be on the lookout for when it comes to delicious edible mushrooms.
Tylopilus Ecology, Coloration, and
Tylopilus mushrooms are, as mentioned above, graced with a spongy layer of fertile tissue under the cap, and in many instances this porous surface starts out white, and then will slowly turn the color of the mushroom’s spore print (often pinkish or lilac, sometimes brown or reddish). Several Tylopilus species have thick, chunky stems and many members of this genus reach fairly large sizes (sometimes with caps a hand-span in diameter), especially when measured up against daintier species in the Boletus, Boletellus, and Suillus genera.
The cap color of Tylopilus species is a little tricky; they usually start out colorful and often in the purple range, but as time goes on they change to brown, buff, or fawn-colored. In fact, although cap color is helpful with identifying all mushrooms, Tylopilus is one of those genera that contains mushrooms that often start out brilliantly colored and flashy, only to turn dull and dun by the time they drop their spores.
Most of the time, the cap of Tylopilus is dry, rather than sticky or slimy. These mushrooms all lack a ring on the stem. There are several Tylopilus species that bruise purple or brownish when they are handled or cut, but they do not bruise blue, which is a common feature that mushroom hunters see day in and day out when hunting Bolete mushrooms.
Tylopilus mushrooms often grow in association with pine, although some of them also partner with oak and other hardwood trees. They are mycorrhizal, meaning that they grow in partnership with a plant or tree that provides sugars to the Tylopilus mycelium in exchange for water and minerals that the fungal network provides to its partner. Tylopilus species are not limited to North America; there are species that occur in Europe, South America, Australia, and other far-flung ecosystems.
One of the more interesting things about this genus is the fact that they are polyphyletic, which means that different species of this genus evolved from different ancestors. Given this (and the state of mycology in general, which seems to largely embrace the splitter ethos, whereby new genera are created every day to account for phylogenic study and the evolutionary roots of similar species), I would not be surprised if the genus Tylopilus experiences a shake-up and is possibly separated into one or more additional genera in order to reflect the different evolutionary roots of species that currently are classified as Tylopilus.
Of course, as an amateur I could be quite wrong about all this, but it does seem that once we as a mycologically inclined collective decided to ride the phylogeny train, species that look and act alike that have different evolutionary roots are sometimes placed into new genera in order to reflect those differences.
Tylopilus and Flavor
One of the key features of many Tylopilus mushrooms is their flavor; a good number of them are bitter to the taste. Some are extremely bitter and once you chew a bit of the cap or stem, your system will immediately reject them as decidedly gross. Others are mild, for instance Tylopilus alboater and Tylopilus indecisus. Should you find a bolete-type mushroom with lilac, pink, purplish, or whitish pores, a good way to step into mushroom identification mode is to take a wee nibble of the cap, chew it, and spit it out. If it’s a bitter Tylopilus, you will know almost immediately, since these species tend toward the colossally unpalatable.
Two Common Eastern U.S. Tylopilus Species
Below are descriptions of two iconic and relatively common eastern U.S. Tylopilus species. Bear in mind that there are other mushrooms you may find that have some of these features; the genus contains well over 70 species and is doubtless going to grow as time goes on! However, both of these are distinctive enough to be good icons for the genus, both on the edible and inedible side of the scale, and should present very little identification heartache to novice mushroom hunters.
Tylopilus alboater, Somewhere Between “Edible” and “Choice”
Tylopilus alboater is one of the most easily identified members of the genus. It has a blackish-purple cap that is often a little felty or velvety, and it’s dry to the touch (instead of sticky or slimy). When young, Tylopilus alboater sometimes has a white “bloom” of powdery material on its cap. Its stem is smooth and rarely has reticulation (a webby-looking pattern in the flesh), and if it does, this feature is confined to the top of the mushroom’s stalk. Tylopilus alboater bruises when handled or cut, first a pinkish color and then fading to grey. The spongy layer under Tylopilus alboater‘s cap is whitish (pallid) when the mushroom is young, but it turns a rosy pink as the specimen matures. The spore print is white.
Tylopilus alboater is common and widespread in the eastern United States, often pairing up with oak trees (Quercus genus). In addition, it often grows in little clusters of two and three individuals. The flavor Tylopilus alboater is mild and indistinct, and it has a pleasant, faintly sweet aroma. As far as wild edible mushrooms go, I’d rate Tylopilus alboater as somewhere between edible and choice; it’s not something I fall over myself about when I discover them in the wild, but I am not at all averse to them. Mostly, their culinary performance (in my estimation) is better when they are young and firm. Also, the grey-staining reaction of this mushroom makes Tylopilus alboater look a little odd on the plate…but considering my own culinary genius (or, more appropriately, lack thereof), I can hardly complain about this feature.
Tylopilus plumbeoviolaceus, Purple and Purty, but YIKES BITTER
Tylopilus plumbeoviolaceus seems to find me almost every time I go mushroom hunting in the summertime, and they festoon the yards of several of my neighbors. When I first encountered this plump, purple, cheerful mushroom, I was pretty excited about it because of its beauty, and also was looking forward to satisfying my curiosity about the famed bitterness of some Tylopilus mushrooms.
Well, rest assured, Tylopilus plumbeoviolaceus did not disappoint; I took one small nibble and promptly felt the desperate need to rinse my mouth to get rid of the bitter flavor…although I suppose I cannot complain much because my partner in crime poured me a small dram of fine scotch that did the trick admirably.
Tylopilus plumbeoviolaceus is purple to purple-brown when young, and as it matures it tends to turn toward the bland, ending its life cycle adorned in tones of brown, tan, or purple-grey. The cap is smooth or slightly velvety when young, and it every now and again has a powdery white bloom early in its development.
Tylopilus plumbeoviolaceus has a white pore surface initially that turns pink and a little tan as the mushroom ages. Unlike Tylopilus alboater, Tylopilus plumbeoviolaceus does not stain when bruised or cut, however its pore surface has an annoying tendency to get dirt and other debris ground into the sponge, which occasionally looks like brownish bruising. The spore print of this mushroom is pinkish-brown.
The stem of Tylopilus plumbeoviolaceus has some reticulation at the top, although it’s not terribly prominent. Also, although the stem is purple (at least when the mushroom is young), there are often patches of pallid flesh that makes the stem look a little mottled. The stalk itself is more or less even, though it is usually a bit enlarged at the base, which gives some specimens a bit of a “porcini-looking” appearance.