© Steve Trudell

Back to Main Menu

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

Click here for my Pictorial Key to Agrocybe


abundant common uncommon rare - colour codes match my Pictorial Key and are my opinions and probably reflect my bias of living in W WA. Rare species may be locally common in certain places at certain times.

Click here to download the FASTA data of all my DNA sequences

Agrocybe - somewhat stocky, boring yellow-brown mushrooms with plain brown spore prints that usually grow on the ground, and usually smell and taste strongly farinaceous, and have a cellular cap cuticle. That means that the cells on the surface of the cap are spherical, so the top layer can break in any direction, unlike most mushrooms whose caps want to split radially. That means there is something subtly different about the cap compared to the many other genera in the large Strophariaceae/Hymenogastraceae family, and in the case of Agrocybe, it means the cap tends to crack like dried mud when it dries out, more so than most genera. The Psathyrellaceae, Panaeolini and Bolbitiaceae (Bolbitius, Conocybe and Pholiotina) also have cellular cap cuticles, but they are delicate, fragile mushrooms whose caps tend to wrinkle or sparkle in the sun. Still, Agrocybe are known as fairly non-descript mushrooms that can be hard to recognize. Most species are most common in the spring, which is interesting, although many can also be found in the fall.

Cyclocybe - One of the species of Agrocybe that didn't smell strongly farinaceous, Agrocybe erebia, turned out genetically to not really be an Agrocybe, so smell is now a fairly good character of the genus (except for the species with a sclerotium). Agrocybe erebia is now in a genus of its own, Cyclocybe. It is somewhat closely related to Tubaria, but perhaps not closely enough to be in the Tubariaceae family. Time will tell if it gets its own family or not.

The other claim to fame of this genus, since it only makes boring brown mushrooms, is that our most common large, urban, spring mushroom is an Agrocybe.

Agrocybe praecox EU group - This is possibly the most abundant large, urban, spring mushroom in the entire PNW. Since most people live in urban areas, and large mushrooms attract the most attention, it is probably the most commonly reported spring mushroom in the entire region. The cap tends to crack, it has a ring on the stem, and it smells and tastes strongly farinaceous.

It actually is found in the wilderness, urban wood chips & gardens, and in grass. Mating studies showed that specimens from western NA from those three habitats were three separate biological species (could mate with each other but not with the others). However, my own sequences of a dozen collections including all three habitats did NOT show any patterns. ITS DNA does not appear to be useful in separating the biological species. There is an unusual amount of genetic variation in this group, varying by as much as 3% from each other in ITS. However, some sequences have a surprising number of ambiguous nucleotides due to the presence of two different alleles in many populations, and most of the 3% difference can be accounted for by locations that show ambiguity. This suggests the "species" are able to hybridize with each other, which the mating studies showed is not supposed to be able to happen. I cannot yet reconcile the three reported biological species with the fact that what I am finding looks like a single species.

Agrocybe acericola NY is a similar Eastern NA hardwood species that has been reported from the PNW. I suspect this is the name that has been used for our wild collections not found in urban areas. However, ITS DNA of our wild collections so far match closely with our urban collections but do not match eastern sequences of Agrocybe acericola. If you think you find this, save it.

Agrocybe molesta/dura EU are the names being used for the biological species in grass, and the two are widely thought to be the same species but I'm not sure which name should prevail. We need reliable sequences of these European species to see if any of our local collections match. Currently, all of our collections from grass, like our collections in the wild, match ITS DNA closely with Agrocybe praecox, but do not match any purported sequences of the EU Agrocybe molesta or A. dura. A. molesta/dura has much larger spores than A. praecox (>10u) so if you find a large spored collection, save it! We need to see what the sequence is.

In summary, I await evidence that we have anything but Agrocybe praecox here in the PNW, but I await collections with spores >10u.

Agrocybe praecox group © Steve Trudell


Agrocybe flexuosipes PN (=putaminum EU, =Agrocybe smithii MA) - A. putaminum and A. smithii (from Europe and eastern North America respectively) are described practically identically - no veil nor ring and a club shaped stem that can be grooved and scaly (from numerous caulocystidia). It was once a rare invasive, but is now almost common in wood chips and gardens.

In fact, all sequences that purport to be from both species have ITS sequences very much the same. The only possible actual difference is that A. putaminum has pileocystidia and A. smithii doesn't. We have DNA from CA of a specimen with loads of pileocystidia (it is the specimen in the photo below), and Henry Beker sequenced the type of Hebeloma flexuosipes without pileocystidia and I believe it has identical ITS. Therefore, he recombined it as Agrocybe flexuosipes. I declare them all to be synonyms since an exact ITS match was made with collections both with and without the pileocystidia. Somebody may do a multi-gene study and try and see if the two species might be different in other genes, but as the ecology is the same, the odds of that bearing out seem slim to me.

ITS DNA of one collection from WA is 3 bp and 1 indels different (plus a few ambiguous locations). I'm waiting for a second sequence to see if this is an aberration.

Agrocybe putaminum © MO user Byrain


Agrocybe sp. OR iNat63851488 - this recent discovery was quite large with a very long stem (19cm!). No observed veil, and a clavate stem, just like A. putaminum/smithii. It was found near old growth on the Oregon coast. The spores are 9-12 x 6-7.8u, similar to A. putaminum, so I don't know how to differentiate it yet, except for the size and habitat, but the DNA is quite distinct.

Agrocybe sp. OR iNat63851488 © Leah Bendlin


Agrocybe pediades EU - This European urban grass species (sometimes in sand, gardens or manure) is somewhat small (<5 cm) with a somewhat hemispherical cap shape with a faint veil zone on the stem. Agrocybe subpediades and Agrocybe semiorbicularis are said by many to be the same and the DNA supports this. All three species all around the world have the same ITS DNA.

Agrocybe columbiana n.p. - This is a new name being proposed for a local PNW very small species (<3 cm) found in grass, without a veil at all and with smaller spores, a greenish overall colour and rhizomorphs at the base of the stem. Please be on the look out for it so we can figure out what it is!

Agrocybe pediades © Andrew Parker


Agrocybe arvalis EU - This small grass or garden species does not smell farinaceous but grows from a ball or sclerotium at the base of the stem. No veil. Bitter taste. We need local DNA to confirm we have this species, but European and eastern NA DNA match up well, so we probably do.

possible Agrocybe arvalis © Danny Miller

Summary of Future Studies Needed

Back to Main Menu