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

Click here for my Pictorial Key to Phaeocollybia


Phaeocollybia - easily recognized by their often orange colours, conical caps and long, tough, cartilaginous rooting stems that are often orange on top then very dark in the portion that is underground. You should carefully dig the entire stem out. The underground part of the stem may be up to three times longer than the above ground part, and reach down more than a foot! Digging them out can be quite an ordeal. The caps are viscid. They are mycorrhizal and they have somewhat warty spores. None are common; they are only known from a limited number of habitats, often near old growth conifers. The PNW is the hotspot for more Phaeocollybia species than anywhere else on the planet, probably because of our old growth conifer forests. They can be mistaken for Mythicomyces/Stagnicola as well as a few other rooting stemmed dark spored mushrooms.

Thanks to the fantastic colour book by Lorelei Norvell and Ron Exeter, available here for free, all known PNW Phaeocollybia species are sequenced. There are still undescribed species and species complexes and recent synonymies not covered by the book which I will go into. Below, when I say how many sites a species is known from, that means at the time of publication of their book.

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.

Green caps and drab gills

Phaecollybia olivacea group OR - green young caps, but otherwise orange-brown colours (no lilac colouration). ITS sequences of this species differ by as much as 3% from each other, falling into 4 clades that may need to be 4 separate taxa, but so far no other differences are known and it is considered all one species. Additionally, the drab species (without green) Phaeocollybia gregaria (see below) has similar ITS DNA, inside this complex, but the morphologic differences seem real and P. gregaria sequences are almost identical to each other and can be told apart from the mess of P. olivacea sequences. Known from ~100 sites in OR and CA, possibly in WA too.

Phaeocollybia pseudofestiva group OR - similar, yet in another section of the genus, best differentiated microscopically. ITS sequences also differ by as much as 3% (falling into 3 geographic clades that may or may not get 3 separate names) but no ecological or morphological differences have yet been found. Known from 35 sites in BC, WA, OR and northern CA.

Phaeocollybia olivacea group and P. pseudofestiva group © Ron Exeter


Purple gills (possibly also a green cap)

Phaeocollybia fallax group WA - our prettiest species, not only with a bright green cap when young, but with purple gills (when fresh). Sequences vary by as much as 1% but as yet there is no talk of splitting the species. Even so, there are at least 2 sister species in this group, each with variable ITS. Known from ~100 sites in BC, WA, OR, ID and CA (also Mexico).

Phaeocollybia PNW01 (GPRA #1)/PNW02 (GPRA #2)/PNW03/PNW04 - some OR sequences in the P. fallax group are more sister species representing possibly 4 undescribed species. It's true that some collections of P. fallax have some variation in hollowness of stem, bitter taste, conic shape of cap and striations. It should be investigated if these features correlate with the several undescribed species in this group.

Phaeocollybia lilacifolia WA (=Phaeocollybia rifflipes WA)  - lilac gills and upper stem when fresh, but a drab cap. Phaeocollybia rifflipes, formerly a separate taxon, is going to be synonymized based on identical ITS DNA regions and little morphological difference. As P. lilacifolia, it was known from "scattered locations" in WA, OR and CA, in conifer forests. As P. rifflipes, it was known from ~10 sites west of the Cascade crest in BC, WA, OR and CA.

Phaeocollybia fallax group and P. lilacifolia © Ron Exeter


Small species (caps <5 cm across, stems <5 mm thick)

Phaeocollybia attenuata group WA - an especially hard and brittle, darker stem than the others. Fall coastal species. Known from ~80 sites west of the cascades in BC, WA, OR and CA. Phaeocollybia attenuata B is a sister species that I do not have a sequence of yet. Phaeocollybia sp. LN 207 is a sister montane species from the Cascades so far unnamed.

Phaeocollybia radicata OR - bright orange cap and fleshy stem (like most species, the stems are brighter orange on top and darker brown on the bottom, but not quite as dark and brittle and the P. attenuata group). Fall. Known from ~7 sites in OR (and maybe a couple in CA).

Phaeocollybia pleurocystidiata WA - very much like P. radicata but found in the winter and spring. Known from ~30 sites in WA, OR and CA.

Phaeocollybia phaeogaleroides group OR - perhaps a more red-brown to chestnut-brown striate cap, and a stem that is very fragile and more easily broken than the previous 2 species. Spring and fall. Known from ~20 sites in BC and (usually) OR. This group includes 2 sister species P. phaeogaleroides #1 and P. phaeogaleroides #2. It is possible that they can be distinguished by the fact that one of them occurs in spring and the other in the fall. The only dated collection was from sp. #1 and it was from December.

Phaeocollybia sp. 1 OR and Phaeocollybia sp. 3 OR - also in the P. phaeogaleroides group are two unnamed species that look like P. phaeogaleroides but are not sister species that are not yet formally described.

P. attenuata group, P. radicata, P. pleurocystidiata and P. phaeogaleroides group © Ron Exeter


Dry sometimes yellow-brown caps that are minutely scaly - (most others are smooth and viscid capped)

Phaeocollybia luteosquamulosa CA - not viscid, this yellow-brown? capped species has a slightly scaly cap. The caps may be orange-brown in which case they strongly resemble many other species unless you note the dry cap with scales so small you may need a hand lens. Spores > 7.5u long. Usually with fir. Known from 9 sites in WA, OR and CA.

Phaeocollybia ochraceocana OR - very similar with smaller spores < 7.5u long. Usually without fir. Known from 6 sites in OR and CA.

Phaeocollybia luteosquamulosa and P. ochraceocana © Ron Exeter


Other species often best differentiated microscopically - "large" species may have caps >10cm and stems >2cm thick


Reliably clustered

Phaeocollybia scatesiae OR - densely clustered with fasciculate stems fused together. Known from ~30 sites in western WA, OR and CA (most in OR).

Phaeocollybia californica CA (=Phaeocollybia rufotubulina CA) - an often clustered species, but with stems not fused together. Several other species cluster too, just not as reliably as this one, so it is best differentiated microscopically. P. rufotubulina has the same ITS and will be declared a synonym. Known from < 15 sites in OR and CA.

P. scatesiae and P. californica © Ron Exeter


Sometimes unique cap colours

Phaeocollybia benzokauffmanii CA - dull lilac colours may exist in an otherwise dull brown cap and stem apex. Known from ~35 sites in WA, OR and CA.

Phaeocollybia oregonensis OR - an interesting greyish brown cap. Smaller spores < 7.5u long. Known from 12 sites in BC, WA, OR and CA.

Phaeocollybia gregaria OR - dull tan or brown cap colours. Known from only 5 sites on the northern Oregon coast from conifer forests.

Phaeocollybia benzokauffmanii © Buck McAdoo,     P. oregonensis © Lorelei Norvell,     P. gregaria © Ron Exeter


Usually orange-brown, spores >7.5u

Phaeocollybia kauffmanii OR - typical orange cap, probably our largest and most common species. Known from ~150 sites in BC, WA, OR, ID and CA. Also found elsewhere in NA.

Phaeocollybia ammiratii complex OR - slightly smaller sometimes with a very pointy orange cap, can get large, it is our largest clamped species. Some collections are a little different morphologically and may represent a new variety. Known from ~50 sites in BC, WA, OR and CA.

Phaeocollybia piceae OR - a variably sized species with orange-brown caps and stems, that is usually smaller than P. kauffmanii, but might be very similar. Known from ~35 sites in BC, WA, OR and CA.

Phaeocollybia chefensis OR - formerly called P. tibiikauffmanii (see below), with an orange-brown cap and growing singly or in pairs. Known from 5 sites along the OR coast, and one recent WA collection extending its known range.

Phaeocollybia kauffmanii © Lorelei Norvell,     P. ammiratii © Ron Exeter,     P. piceae © Lorelei Norvell,     P. chefensis © Heidi Christensen


Usually with darker red-brown colours in the cap, at least in age, spores >7.5u

Phaeocollybia redheadii BC - eventually reddish brown capped when old, but easily confused with the orange-brown capped species when young. Known from ~40 sites in BC, WA, OR and CA. Also found elsewhere in NA.

Phaeocollybia spadicea WA (=Phaeocollybia tibiikauffmanii OR) - often darker reddish-brown as well, usually smaller than P. redheadii, but not always. They grow gregariously or in clusters. Some initial collections, more reliably orange, were actually a second species, which P. tibiikauffmanii was supposed to be the name of, but the type that was chosen turned out to be a P. spadicea, so another type was chosen to get a new name, Phaeocollybia chefensis, discussed above. Known from ~55 sites in coastal WA, OR and CA as P. spadicea and from 14 sites in OR and 1 in WA as P. tibiikauffmanii.

Phaeocollybia redheadii and spadicea © Ron Exeter


Orange or red-brown caps, but with smaller spores (<7.5u) than the above lookalikes

Phaeocollybia sipei OR - a rather nondescript orange-brown capped species with smaller spores than the former species (<7.5u long). Known from 25 sites in OR (and 1 in WA).

Phaeocollybia dissiliens OR - another nondescript orange-brown capped species very similar to P. sipei with equally small spores, so hard to differentiate. Known from ~20 sites in OR.


Phaeocollybia sipei and P. dissiliens © Ron Exeter


Other undescribed species - I have sequences, but no descriptions

Phaeocollybia sp. 4 OR - 4 sequences from OR.

Phaeocollybia sp. RLE 2013-14 OR - 2 sequences from OR

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