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The Genus Gomphus     

[ Basidiomycetes > Phallales . . . ]

by Michael Kuo

Gomphus is an odd genus of funky-looking mushrooms that are vaguely reminiscent of chanterelles and were, until recently, treated alongside them in the Cantharellaceae family. The mushrooms are generally sturdy, fleshy, and vase-shaped, with wrinkled outer surfaces. They are more common in northern and montane forests, and most species are mycorrhizal partners with trees. Preliminary research (Giachini, 2004; link below) has indicated a potential relationship between the appearance of Gomphus fruiting bodies and the volume of woody debris present.

The traditional distinction between Gomphus and the chanterelles is that the former have large, coarse scales on the cap surface--or have stems that are fused together, sharing two or more caps. Under the microscope, species of Gomphus have roughened spores, while the spores of Cantharellus and Craterellus species are smooth.

Despite the fact that the mushrooms vaguely resemble chanterelles, recent DNA studies have consistently placed Gomphus with stinkhorns, clubs and corals, and earth stars, far from the chanterelles. For more information, see the page for the Phallales.


Gomphus purpuraceus

Gomphus floccosus

Very recent research by Admir Giachini (2004; link below) has combined DNA study with traditional morphology-based methods, with several important findings. First, DNA suggests that the genus Gomphus should be limited to three species centered around Gomphus clavatus (which is the only one of the three occurring in North America). Second, the species centered around "Gomphus floccosus" should probably be treated in a separate genus; Giachini proposes an older genus name, Turbinellus. Third, many of the floccosus-like "species" are so genetically similar that they probably do not deserve separate species status (see the key below). Fourth, the floccosus-like and clavatus-like groups are distant enough, genetically, that several species of Ramaria (see Clubs and Corals) are grouped between them, indicating a clear separation. Last (for our purposes here, anyway), some species currently treated in Gomphus are even more distantly related, and belong in the little-known genus Gloeocantharellus (see the key below).

Key to 7 Gomphus Taxa in North America     

1.Stems almost always sharing multiple caps; purple or lilac shades present (not merely resulting from bruising) on young, fresh specimens.

1.Stems only occasionally sharing multiple caps; purple shades absent in all stages of development, except occasionally as bruising reactions.

2.Cap white or whitish.

2.Cap more highly colored.

3.Known from Canada; cap small (only a few cm wide); stems not sharing caps.
"Gomphus canadensis"
= Turbinellus / Gomphus floccosus

3.Natural in Asia and introduced in Hawaii (perhaps to be expected as an introduced species on the West Coast); cap medium in size (up to 10 cm across); stems sometimes sharing caps.
"Gomphus pallidus"
at Agaricales of the Hawaiian Islands
= Gloeocantharellus pallidus

4.Known from the Pacific Northwest and the Appalachian Mountains; mushrooms quite large (up to 40 cm high); cap color ranging from pale brown to pale orange (never dark red or orange); scales on the cap surface tiny and dot-like near the edge of the cap, larger toward the center.
Gomphus kauffmanii
= Turbinellus kauffmanii
Full description and photo
on page 135 of Giachini, 2004
(link below)

4.Known from across montane and boreal North America; mushrooms smaller than above (up to 30 cm high but usually smaller); cap color ranging from cinnamon or pale orange to bright orange or bright red; scales more or less equally sized across the cap surface (not smaller and dot-like along the cap edge).

5.Note: Recent research (Giachini, 2004) suggests that a single species, Turbinellus / Gomphus floccosus, is represented by the "species" keyed out below.

5a.Scales soft; red to bright orange shades present or absent; known from various regions; spores 10-20 µ long.

5b.Scales soft to brittle; red to bright orange shades absent; known from California; spores 15-18 µ long.
"Gomphus wilkinsae"
= Turbinellus / Gomphus floccosus

6.Known from the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest; cap usually prominently scaly; mushrooms frequently growing in clusters; spores 10-12 x 5-6 µ.
"Gomphus bonarii"
= Turbinellus / Gomphus floccosus

6.Known from across montane and boreal North America; cap prominently scaly or only somewhat scaly; mushrooms only rarely growing in clusters; spores 11-20 x 6-10 µ.
Gomphus floccosus
= Turbinellus floccosus

Sources for Gomphus

Arora, D. (1986). Mushrooms demystified: A comprehensive guide to the fleshy fungi. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. 959 pp.

Bigelow, H. E. (1978). Cantharelloid fungi of New England and adjacent areas. Mycologia 70: 707-756.

Corner, E. J. H. (1966). A monograph of cantharelloid fungi. Oxford: Oxford UP. 255 pp.

Giachini, A. J. (2004). Systematics, phylogeny, and ecology of Gomphus sensu lato. Doctoral dissertation, Oregon State University. Available online here.

Persson, O. (1997). The chanterelle book. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. 120 pp.

Pilz, D., L. Norvell, E. Dannell & R. Molina. (2003). Ecology and management of commercially harvested chanterelle mushrooms. Portland, Oregon: USDA General Technical Report. 83 pp. Available online at

Pine, E. M. et al. (1999). Phylogenetic relationships of cantharelloid and clavarioid Homobasidiomycetes based on mitochondrial and nuclear rDNA sequences. Mycologia 91: 944-963.

Smith, A. H. (1968). The Cantharellaceae of Michigan. Michigan Botanist 7: 143-183.

Smith, A. H., Smith, H. V. & Weber, N. S. (1981). How to know the non-gilled mushrooms. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown. 324 pp.

Thiers, H. D. (1985). The Agaricales of California. 2. Cantharellaceae. Eureka, CA: Mad River Press. 34 pp.

Cite This Page As:

Kuo, M. (2006, February). The genus Gomphus. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site:

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