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Expert links: Ringed Odiferous T. saponaceum
  White or Yellow-Brown Brown to orange-brown Grey

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One of the basic mushroom statures you'll hear about is "tricholomatoid", which simply means a big mushroom. Technically it means "like a Tricholoma", which are usually big, so therefore it has come to be a way to describe any large mushroom, not just Tricholomas. But a true Tricholoma is more restricted than that.

However, there are exceptions, and a mushroom as small as 2cm across could still be a Tricholoma, so you also want to consider how stocky the mushroom is. The 2cm Tricholomas will have thick flesh and a thick stem to go along with them, and look "meaty". Equally important, a Tricholoma will not have a hygrophanous cap. Compare these two photos:

Tricholoma - caps are only 2cm across, but cap distinctly scaly with thick flesh.

Not a Tricholoma (the stem is not stocky enough, caps are thinner, slightly hygrophanous.) (Clitocybe)

And not all pale gilled large mushrooms are Tricholomas:

Tricholoma (Matsutake)

Amanita smithiana - DEADLY lookalike, gills are not notched

Entoloma lividum grp - too greasy/translucent, wrong "look and feel", pink spores.

If you browse all the photos on this page, you should come to recognize that Entoloma, Lyophyllum etc., although big and stocky, have the wrong look about them (hygrophanous and/or translucent). The other two pictured above, at first glance, appear to be Tricholomas. The Amanita has free gills, not notched gills (although the difference is very subtle, and other characters need to be used as well), and the Cortinarius would have brown spores if you made a spore print, or looked closely enough.

Even if a mushroom has all of the ingredients of a Tricholoma, it still might be something different. It could look exactly like a Tricholoma, but be growing on buried wood instead of soil, or have gills attached in a slightly different way, or a coloured spore print, which usually means you have something different. And not every Tricholoma follows the rules either. As usual, browse the following pictures for a while, and you will learn what they all have in common.

Tricholomas often have that farinaceous smell we talk so often about - a mix of raw bread dough, cucumber or watermelon. Most are in the range of 5-15cm, with the ones tending towards one end of the spectrum or further labeled as being small or large. They are mycorrhizal found under conifers and in mixed forests unless otherwise specified.


Tricholoma saponaceum group - I mention this one first because you should always wonder if you have one of these very common spring and fall Tricholomas before spending time keying out the yellow, green, brown and grey species. The cap colours can be quite variable (most frequently with yellow or grey). These soapy smelling Trichs (although many people say they don't really smell like soap) have somewhat of a faint unpleasant odor. Usually smooth and not scaly, sometimes with a touch of pink at the very bottom of the stem, so dig it up carefully. We may have 4 or more species in this group, none of them the real thing.




Key to Tricholoma (except T. saponaceum):


Ringed Tricholomas

These mushrooms have a veil developed enough to leave a ring around the stem. Other Tricholomas may have a weak veil (or even a cortina), but you won't see it leave a ring behind on the stem.

Back when we thought it was difficult to evolve or de-evolve a partial veil, these mushrooms were placed in the genus Armillaria, with other ringed mushrooms like the Honey Mushroom, which grows on wood. But it turns out that whether or not you grow on wood or on the ground is much more important in determining if you are related than whether or not you have a veil (we got it backwards).

Tricholoma vernaticum (olida) - strongly like cucumber. Spring. Big. Ring often disappears making it similar to smaller white or brown species.

T. cingulatum - smaller, farinaceous, with willow.

T. murrillianum ('magnivelare') - Matsutake - big, one of the most interesting smelling mushrooms and most sought after edibles. DO NOT CONFUSE WITH DEADLY AMANITA. It is OK if you confuse it with Catathelasma or Russula brevipes, which you probably will.

Be careful! Here is a Matsutake on the left and a deadly Amanita smithiana on the right.

T. dulciolens ('caligatum') - a bit darker, with a thinner stem. It can smell the same, but does not taste as good, so if you mix them up, you might not have a good tasting meal.

T. focale (zelleri) - bright orange colours, somewhat farinaceous.

T. badicephalum ('robustum') - a name some give to the dark brown without orange version with small black fibrils on cap. Perhaps a corn silk odor.

Floccularia albolanaripes - <15cm, dark scales on the cap and a shaggy stem. No odor. Not a Tricholoma, but related to Lepiota.

Be careful! As shown above, the Matsutake has a deadly lookalike Amanita. The Amanita gills don't have a notch just before they reach the stem, they are said to be "free" although they often do not look free. The stem of the real Matsutake is much tougher and harder to break, and never gets thicker and then thinner again like a spindle. The Matsutake will more commonly have ash on the bottom of the stem as shown. The ring on the Matsutake is usually more well developed than on Amanita smithiana, and the scales tend to be more well formed. But most of all, the characteristic smell is not there in the Amanita, although many hopeful foragers have fooled themselves into thinking it is!  I can't begin to describe that smell, you have to find yourself some genuine Matsutake and smell it a hundred times and get that scent into your brain. Do not eat one based on this description (or any other). You need an expert to show you in person.


Odiferous Tricholomas - White and Yellow

There are a few that have the smell of "coal tar", which, if you weren't around 150 years ago (when these mushrooms were first described) stoking your own coal furnace, you might not recognize. So suffice it to say that it is unpleasant, somewhat like mothballs, but you will learn it quickly once you smell it. Most do not get very large.

Others might have quite pleasant odors, like one which often has a coconut smell!

The famous farinaceous smell is covered elsewhere. This section is for more unusual odors. The odiferous ringed Tricholomas are described above.

T. platyphyllum ('inamoenum') - mostly white. The gills are fairly well spaced. The least uncommon. Coal-tar.

T. odorum ('sulphureum') - mostly yellow. A variety with a brown to reddish-brown cap is called T. bufonium, but it is likely the same mushroom. Coal-tar.

T. lutescens ('sulphurescens') - often smells sweet like coconut, but may smell bad. Turns yellow where it's been handled, or in age. All other Trichs are more evenly yellow, except T. arvernense.

T. apium - smells like celery! Mostly white except for a tan, dry cap that cracks in age.

Tricholoma vernaticum - strongly like cucumber. Spring. Big. Has a ring that often disappears.


The best way I can think of sorting out the rest of the Tricholomas is by cap colour.

White cap - farinaceous odor, no ring.

T. farinaceum - its strong farinaceous smell is not unusual for a Tricholoma, but its slender stature and white colour is. It may not actually be a Tricholoma.


Yellow-Brown - Most of these can be somewhat viscid (sticky) capped when wet, and usually have somewhat of a farinaceous odor and taste, but not the coal-tar odor of the stinky Trichs.

T. equestre group - the Man on Horseback edible, although one group member mysteriously killed some people in France. Yellow is often found on the cap, gills and stem, although the cap can be brownish. Our most common group members may be T. frondosae and T. ulvinenii, plus maybe a half dozen more.

T. intermedium - group member with a yellow brown cap, but no yellow in the gills and usually stem. Other brown sticky Tricholomas below are not yellow-brown or have black fibrils.

One undescribed species has a scaly stem.

T. arvernense - very similar, dry cap, gills may be yellow near the cap margin.

T. davisiae - fading yellow-green cap with darker point, else white. Drier cap than all but T. arvernense.

T. atrofibrillosum ('sejunctum') - black radiating fibrils over a yellow ground colour, gills sometimes also yellow near the cap margin. May look grey capped if the yellow is completely covered.


Brown to orange-brown

Here are a few notable brown species, none of them common, none of them very large.

T. aurantium - beautiful orange scales on the lower stem that stop abruptly where the veil would be, but no ring is left on the stem. Viscid, unlike the T. vaccinum that is sometimes colourful like this. Very farinaceous.

T. aurantio-olivaceum - notable for its slender stature and orange-yellow-olive colours. Less scaly cap than the larger T. vaccinum. 

T. apium - smells like celery! Mostly white except for a tan, dry cap that cracks in age.

Viscid Brown - There are two groups of species that are sticky when wet and brown, separated by their preference for growing under hardwood or conifers. Even when dry and not sticky anymore, you might find lots of debris stuck to the cap, proving that it once was sticky. Their caps are usually smooth, not scaly. They are farinaceous, and some species are quite similar to T. flavovirens and T. intermedium.

T. fulvum ('pessundatum') - usually darker. Our most common conifer species (there are others).

Tricholoma ammophilum ('populinum') - usually paler, our most common hardwood species (there are others).

Dry Brown - Their caps are usually scaly, not smooth. Not as strongly farinaceous. These are both very common.

T. 'imbricatum' - your basic brown capped Tricholoma, but the shade of brown and amount of scales can vary significantly.

T. vaccinum - warm orange-brown and often a hollow stem. More distinctively scaly. Hint of a veil when young. Compare T. aurantium

T. venenatum described below is tan, scaly and farinaceous.


Grey Tricholomas - This is probably the most confusing group, made even more confusing by the fact that T. saponaceum can be greyish. Let's start with the small ones (~5cm). There are all quite densely scaly on the cap, may smell farinaceous, and may be confused with the Lepiota group.

T. triste (=moseri?) - the smallest one (<5cm), found in spring. No veil and odorless.

T. terreum (myomyces) grp - sometimes >5cm at maturity, at least a weak partial veil and somewhat farinaceous.

Larger scaly capped grey Tricholomas, mostly with a farinaceous odor, but without the yellow staining of T. luteomaculosum, which is described above. (T. sejunctum may look grey but will have yellow underneath the fibrils).

T. huronense - The most common large, dry, scaly species. Strongly farinaceous too. Not usually as densely scaly as the smaller ones.  Poisonous.

T. pardinum/venenatum - smoky grey/tan lookalikes, more strongly farinaceous than other similar Tricholomas.

T. atroviolaceum - with a distinct purple tint to the grey, very scaly cap and greyish-brown sometimes marginate gills.

T. 'atrosquamosum' - cap more densely scaly and darker than T. pardinum, stem has fine scales too. Gills possibly marginate.

T. squarrulosum - similar, very scaly stem! All are larger than scaly stemmed Lepiotas.

Smooth grey caps - these differ by odor and taste, but none get very large. Only the last is viscid.

T. argenteum - bitter tasting, less streaky and less pointy.

T. virgatum - hot tasting. Usually streaky and pointed. Similar to T. sejunctum but that has yellow and is viscid.

T. nigrum - strongly farinaceous. Streaky but less pointy.

T. griseoviolaceum grp (avellaneifolium?) ('portentosum') - the viscid smooth grey species. May have yellow in the gills or stem. Edible. Somewhat farinaceous.


Congratulations! You are now familiar with many of the larger, and therefore most eye-catching pale spored mushrooms. For specialized literature, please see Tricholomas of North America by the Bessettes, Trudell and Roody.

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