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Danny’s DNA Discoveries – Cortinarius of the PNW
by Danny Miller

Click here for my Pictorial Key to Cortinarius


Cortinarius is the most difficult genus of all. We have more than 400 species of Cortinarius in the PNW, so we're going to have to do things a little differently. It will take years to verify which species are actually here, and even more years to be able to come up with some kind of a key to tell them apart.

Step one is that I have been collecting all the PNW DNA that I can of Cortinarius. So far, I have about 418 genetic species. Thanks to the great work of Kare Liimatainen and Tuula Niskanen from Finland and our very own Joe Ammirati at UW and their colleagues, Cortinarius has more type sequences available to compare against than many better understood genera. Therefore I have been able to put names on a great deal of our species, while scores of them are still unnamed. We have also been able to work out the actual sections in the genus, so most species are now placed in their proper section.

Step two will be to collect photographs of them all, and step three will be to start to learn to tell them apart.

The family Cortinariaceae used to be a catch-all family for every brown spored genus left over that wasn't distinctive enough to place in an obvious family. Through genetics, we have now sorted out most genera and what families they are all in, even though it is not often obvious which are related to each other. What we discovered is that the Cortinariaceae, once the largest dark spored family, is now the smallest dark spored family, as in the PNW, literally only Cortinarius is left in the family and nothing else.

Cortinarius are recognized by often having a web-like cortina for a partial veil (with one notable exception), orange or rusty tinged brown spores and growing on the ground. Although that doesn't quite always work, many people have learned to spot that they have one, but figuring out which of the more than 400 local species you have is not yet practical. Some are quite beautiful, purple is a very common colour. Hundreds of species are at least partially purple.

Traditionally placed into six subgenera: Dermocybe, Telamonia, Phlegmacium, Myxacium, Sericeocybe and Leprocybe. Dermocybe and Telamonia are still well defined and relatively easy to recognize, but the others have been split into a bunch of new sections.

  • Dermocybe - brightly coloured gills with pigments that can be used to dye clothing. The caps are dry and fibrillose.
  • Telamonia - the hygrophanous dry capped species and most difficult subgenus, consisting mainly of plain brown mushrooms often with purple tones.
  • Leprocybe - scaly or hairy capped species now split into Leprocybe, Callistei, Limonii, Crassi, Orellani and Cortinarius (our beautiful purple velvet Cortinarius). Some turned out to belong in Telamonia. Leprocybe glow under UV light.
  • Sericeocybe - silky, satiny caps that are often whitish-lilac-tan, now split into Sericeocybe and Cyanites. Many turned out to belong in Telamonia.
  • Myxacium - viscid cap and stem mostly with cylindrical stems, now split into Myxacium, Delibuti and Ochroleuci.
  • Phlegmacium - viscid cap only mostly with clavate stems, now split into Phlegmacium, Bulbopodium and Calochroi (both often with distinct bulbs, the later including most somewhat sequestrate species with thick leathery veils), as well as many new sections difficult to distinguish from Phlegmacium: Infracti, Lustrati, Multiformes, Purpurascentes, Riederi, Scauri, Subtorti, Turmalis and many more still to come.
  • Rozites - our species with a regular membranous ring instead of a web-like cortina.

Take a look at my spreadsheet, and you will see the name (if known), which of the 6 subgenera it was in, the new accurate section that it belongs to and examples of ITS DNA both for our local species and the type sequences or other reliable sequences that it was compared against to come up with the name. Synonyms are given so if you search for a named species, it may be able to tell you the actual name of the species that has been going by that name, if different. Also, I have a bunch of other sequences at the end of species not yet known from the PNW but that I am keeping an eye out for.

Click here to download my Cortinarius spreadsheet

Shannon Adams is doing important work on local Cortinarius, and here you will find a link to her page with great photos and descriptions of many local species.

Click here for Shannon's NA Cort page

Click on my Pictorial Key link for the best key and photo review of our species that I have so far, although it is incomplete and does not have all the genetic details found in the spreadsheet.

Click here for my Pictorial Key to Cortinarius


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