Make sure your "coral" isn't too much like plant material. It may be a lichen, a symbiosis between a fungus and green algae or cyanobacteria, found on wood, bare ground or even bare rocks, unrelated to the fungi on this page. Lichens are not covered in this key.
X. hypoxylon grp - this flask is unrelated, but often not covered in the pimples that identify what it really is.
Key to Corals:
Sparassis radicata ('crispa') - the cauliflower mushroom (although perhaps it should be called the noodle mushroom). Up to 50cm across, smooth wide petals, found on the ground. A member of the Polyporales. A prized edible for its long shelf life. Saprophytic.
Thelephora/Craterellus/Polyozellus - dark coloured fan or tube shaped mushrooms found on the ground. Thelephora has brown nodulose spores. Polyozellus has white nodulose spores. They may all be mycorrhizal.
T. palmata - tube to fan-shaped branches, stinks to high heaven! <10cm.
T. caespitulans - much like a small T. palmata without the odor, <2.5cm
Polyozellus multiplex grp - the blue chanterelle, rare, growing in large clusters 15cm high and even wider. Thelephorales.
Craterellus calicornucopioides - Not to be confused with this delicious black chanterelle, with veins that are particularly hard to detect. Cantharellales.
Clavulina - small, white to grey corals found on the ground, easily confused with pale Lentarias or Ramarias (which are sometimes on wood and often bitter), but neither are nearly as common. Clavulina is more likely to have "busier" branch tips and be closer to white overall. They are mostly <10cm. They are mycorrhizal, and related to chantarelles! (Cantharellales).
Grey specimens are parasitized by Helminthosphaeria clavariarum (a flask). Young entirely grey bodies without pimples are called C. cinerea.
C. rugosa - blunt or flattened, wrinkled, white coral, not highly branched. See Tremellodendropsis.
Lentaria - small, much like Clavulina but sometimes bitter, not as highly branched and with white tips that look less "busy". Found on conifer wood, like some pale Ramarias (which are usually taller). Abundant white rhizomorphs (mycelial threads) at the base. Probably saprophytic.
Ramaria - the classic common PNW
large and colourful coral mushrooms, although some of them are small
and drab as well, and can be confused with previous species on this page.
The bright orange ones are larger and more complex than
There are a few chemical tests that can help you identify Ramarias. Iodine will turn the stem flesh black in a few species, and FeSO4 will turn the flesh inside the base of the stem green in a few others.
Subgenus Echinoramaria (also known as Phaeoclavulina) - small corals with pale yellow-brown colours, found on the ground. These usually taste bitter. Usually <5cm, with rhizomorphs around the base like Lentaria. Spores more sharply spiny. Most easily confused with Clavulina, which is never bitter and more whitish or grey, and with subgenus Lentoramaria (covered next, so check there too). Drab Laeticolora, further below, are taller.
R. abietina - yellowish branches turn green on handling. Tall, <10cm. (See also R. apiculata in Lentoramaria.)
R. mutabilis - the stem turns slightly green.
R. glaucoaromatica - everything turns green except the bright white stem base. Smells like maple when dried. Idaho.
R. incognita - stem said to turn brown in age or when handled.
R. argentea - stem turns brown as well, branch tips often white.
Subgenus Lentoramaria - contains more small, pale, blah corals, found either on the ground or on wood. They, too, often taste bitter. They could also easily be confused with Clavulina and Lentaria as well as with anything in subgenus Echinoramaria (but those are shorter or differently coloured). Spores more bluntly warty. This section may not all be related, and may need to be further split up. Drab looking Laeticolora, further below, are taller, brown or yellowish or pale and found on the ground, whereas the tall species in this section are usually found on wood.
R. suecica - pale pinkish tones, white branch tips, on the ground. ~5cm.
R. apiculata - tips sometimes turn green (like the lower branches of R. abietina) but on wood. Not as yellowish, but sometimes reddish. <8cm.
R. tsugina - similar.
R. stricta - taller than wide, branches vertical, yellow tones, on wood. <15cm. Bruises brown where handled. Always bitter.
|Also consider subgenus Laeticolora, further below, for tall, drab species that are either brownish or found on the ground.|
Subgenus Ramaria (R. botrytis grp) - bushy cauliflower shaped corals as much as 10-20cm high or wide that are generally pale with bright pink to purple tips when young, found on the ground. The pink may fade, and the stem flesh usually discolours in age. You might notice that they all look alike. Most other red Ramarias are a different shade of red that is also in the branches or not cauliflower shaped. The stem flesh is amyloid, meaning it eventually darkens in iodine, and this group has the longest spores in Ramaria.
R. rubrievanescens - branch tips quickly fade from peachy pink or light orange to white, quicker amyloid reaction.
|The following belong to
subgenus Laeticolora, and may be discussed there:
R. caulifloriformis has dull pink branch tips, but the stem is not amyloid.
R. botrytoides has bright pink branch tips, and non-amyloid flesh. Very bitter!
R. coulterae has pink branch tips, non-amyloid flesh and a rusty root.
Subgenus Laeticolora - most of the large, beautiful, colourful Ramarias found on the ground belong here. The most common colours you will find are yellow, orange and peach, but they also come in red and purple as well as drab colours. The shape of different species may or may not strongly resemble the shape of cauliflower. There are a few species that have something distinctive that helps identify them: a rusty root (a rust coloured band of stem flesh) or a stem that stains red wine colour (others have stem flesh that stains brown, or not at all). Some have a yellow belly band where the upper stem has a band of yellow around it. Microscopically, some of them have cells that are not "clamped", which is unusual (and difficult to detect without a lot of experience), but they all seem to be related. You will have to find a young one and note its colours, because they fade quickly as they age making it hard to tell the difference. Some species have a black iodine (amyloid) reaction or a green positive reaction to FeSO4 inside the stem flesh. Do not test the outside, that is almost always FeSO4 positive!
First let's get the drab species out of the way. These are mostly larger than the drab Echinoramaria (Phaeoclavulina) and Lentoramaria, up to 10cm or larger, and not found on wood.
R. testaceoflava - taller than wide, dark chocolate brown, with yellow (when fresh), bitter, slowly stains reddish brown in age and when handled. Stem flesh green in FeSO4. Similar to Lentoramarias.
Next up are the red or purple species. These are perhaps the most striking of any mushrooms. They grow up to ~10cm or so in each direction.
R. caulifloriformis - cauliflower shaped, pale pinkish tan tips that turn dark brown in age, resembles R. botrytis but stem flesh not amyloid. Spring and fall.
R. coulterae - also cauliflower like, resembles R. rubripermanens but stem flesh not amyloid, rusty root, spring.
R. botrytoides - bright pink tips, no rusty root, flesh not amyloid. Very bitter!
R. violaceibrunnea (fennica/
R. fumosiavellanea - more entirely purple-grey.
Next let's tackle the yellow species, those that don't have orange or peach tones when freshest, although they may turn orange-brown in age! At that point ID gets hopeless without a microscope. They usually get up to 15cm high or so. This page has been difficult to use so far, but now it unfortunately gets even worse. The yellow and orange Ramarias are especially difficult to tell apart without a microscope.
R. magnipes - spring clone of R. rasilispora, also amyloid. Stem base is covered with a soft white coating and may stain brown.
R. cystidiophora - brightest yellow, erect not cauliflower-like, smells sweet, like licorice, floral or bean-like, stem may stain brown to wine. One variety has colours like R. formosa.
R. flavobrunnescens - less bright yellow, floral smell, stem not staining but stem flesh somewhat yellow-brown.
R. velocimutans - white to yellow, rusty root. Stem flesh bright green in FeSO4. May grow up to 30cm!
R. rubiginosa - very similar coral, wine staining base. Perhaps faintly FeSO4+ or I+.
R. synaptopoda - a more compound stem with small wine stains, smaller, ~5cm
Finally, the confusing array of orange Ramarias. Some are more peachy with yellow tips (the "formosa" colour scheme) and others are orange with yellow tips or just orange. Every Ramaria kind of looks orange-brown when it's old. Also growing to 15cm or so.
R. formosa - peach branches, yellow tips, flesh browns where handled, usually thick stem.
R. cystidiophora may be similarly coloured, but smells of licorice.
R. conjunctipes - formosa-like, tall, may have sparsely branched stems joined at base. No staining.
R. raveneliana is a smaller version (<4cm)
R. leptoformosa - another tall formosa-like species, brighter colours, more orange than peach. No staining.
R. rubricarnata - like formosa but amyloid flesh (shown). Flesh does not stain strongly. Spring and fall.
R. longispora - orange with yellow tips, yellow belly band, no staining. Single, often swollen stem.
R. aurantiisiccescens - also completely orange especially at tips, less dense, yellow belly band.
R. armeniaca - also usually brightest orange at the tips, no belly band, spring.
R. gelatinosa - very gelatinous inside the stem, formosa colours when fresh.
- cauliflower shape
R. flavigelatinosa - four varieties with gelatinous stem flesh like R. gelatinosa, may have sweet or bean-like odor. Branches may be orange or yellow.
R. sandaracina - three varieties with orange to salmon branches and sometimes a sweet or bean-like odor, indistinctly to distinctly gelatinous stem flesh, sometimes with a yellow belly band.
R. gelatiniaurantia - two varieties, one distinctly gelatinous with deep orange branches and tips and a yellow belly band and the other less gelatinous, with apricot yellow branches and yellow tips.
R. celerivirescens - rusty root "formosa" like R. amyloidea but only weakly amyloid. Stem flesh also green in FeSO4.
R. rubribrunnescens - formosa colours with wine staining base.
R. maculatipes - similar, slow amyloid reaction (45 min)
There is a beautiful full colour book with many more species than shown here, Ramaria of the Pacific Northwestern United States by Ronald L. Exeter, Lorelei Norvell and Efrén Cázares available directly from the BLM (along with a book on Phaeocollybia). You should at least download and print the free poster and hang it in your room.