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The American Matsutake: Tricholoma magnivelare

[ Basidiomycetes > Agaricales > Tricholomataceae > Tricholoma . . . ]

by Michael Kuo

The American matsutake grows primarily under conifers in northern and montane North America. When young it is white, but it soon begins to develop brownish discolorations. It features a prominent partial veil which covers the young gills and later forms a sheathlike covering on the lower stem, with the upper edge flaring outward to form a ring. The gills are crowded and attached to the stem, sometimes by a notch, but do not run down it. The spore print is white.

The odor of the matsutake is its most distinctive--and hard to characterize--feature. "Spicy but a little bit foul" is what comes to my mind, though I like "a provocative compromise between 'red hots' and dirty socks" (Arora, 1986, p. 191). The matsutake taste is as distinctive as the odor: "an incredible and complex flavor you won't ever forget--even though you won't be able to adequately describe it to anyone" (Volk, 2000).

I have seen, studied, sniffed, and tasted matsutakes, but I have never collected one in the woods--a fact I mention partly in the interests of full disclosure but primarily to help you distinguish the matsutake from look-alikes, since I have been erroneously convinced of matsutake finds several times, only to discover that I was looking at: Tricholoma caligatum (with a browner cap, hardwood habitat, and mild or mealy odor), Catathelasma imperiale (with gills that run down the stem, a double ring, and a tapering stem that roots deeply in the soil), and, embarrassingly, Russula brevipes (too many differences to list, but in my defense I will mention that I was looking at a "mushrump" in a northern California conifer forest, recalling the wisdom of many authors who say matsutakes are often found just barely lifting themselves above the litter layer).

The species name Tricholoma magnivelare is used for North American matsutakes, but it is doubtful the name is accurately applied to western and Mexican mushrooms. Charles Peck coined the species name in 1878 for matsutakes he collected in New York. Northeastern matsutake collections are generally made under jack pine (Pinus banksiana), and DNA studies have shown not only that specimens from the northeast are distinct from western and Mexican specimens, but that northeastern matsutakes are aligned with specimens from Asia and Europe identified as Tricholoma matsutake (the "true" matsutake of Asia) and Tricholoma nauseosum (the European matsutake). According to Chapela and Garbelotto (2004):

    [E]vidence points consistently to the existence of three main groups of matsutake: western North America, Meoamerica and Asia-Europe-North Africa-eastern North America, with further substructuring within each group. These groups do not coincide with currently used nomenclature (737).

In other words, the name "Tricholoma magnivelare" probably applies to northeastern matsutakes--but should be changed to one of the older names (Tricholoma matsutake or Tricholoma nauseosum; see comments below) . . . while western and Mexican matsutakes currently lack scientific names. Even more disturbing is the fact that differences in physical features (for example, brown caps versus white caps) appear not to correlate with significant genetic differences.


Ecology: Mycorrhizal, primarily with conifers (jack pine in northeastern North America; lodgepole pine in the Rocky Mountains; Pinus teocote and other pines in Mexico's high-elevation pine-oak forests; and ponderosa pine and other conifers Pacific Northwest and California--but also found in tanoak and madrone forests on the West Coast); growing scattered or gregariously; northern and montane North America; summer, fall, and (in warmer climates) winter.

Cap: 5-20 cm; convex becoming broadly convex or nearly flat; dry or a little sticky; white at first; soon with brownish discolorations and pressed-down fibers; the margin rolled under when young.

Gills: Attached to the stem, sometimes by means of a notch; crowded; white, developing brown or reddish brown stains and spots with age.

Stem: 4-15 cm long; up to 5 cm thick; more or less equal, or with a slightly tapered base (but not with a long, rooting base); white above the ring, colored like the cap below; partial veil white and thick, collapsing to form a sheath around the lower stem and a prominent flaring ring at the top edge of the sheath.

Flesh: White; firm; not changing on exposure.

Odor and Taste: Taste spicy; odor fragrant and distinctive (see comments above).

Spore Print: White.

Microscopic Features: Spores 5-7 x 4-6 µ; smooth; elliptical; inamyloid. Cystidia and clamp connections absent.

REFERENCES: (Peck, 1878) Redhead, 1984. (Saccardo, 1887; Smith, Smith & Weber, 1979; Ovrebo, 1980; Arora, 1986; Phillips, 1991/2005; Lincoff, 1992; Shanks, 1994; Evenson, 1997; Hosford et al., 1997; Bergius & Danell, 2000; Chapela & Garbelotto, 2004; McNeil, 2006; Kuo, 2007.)

Armillaria ponderosa is a former name.

Swedish researchers (Bergius & Danell, 2000) have demonstrated that the Swedish Tricholoma nauseosum, illustrated in the right-hand column, is genetically identical to Tricholoma matsutake of Asia. Although Tricholoma nauseosum is the older name, the authors suggest that the rules governing the naming of species should be broken in this case, to allow the species name to agree with the widely used common name matsutake. Since more recent research (Chapela & Garbaletto, 2004; see comments above) suggests that the Swedish/Asian matsutake corresponds to the matsutake of northeastern North America, "Tricholoma matsutake" may eventually be the correct name for our northeastern taxon.

Further Online Information:

Tricholoma magnivelare at Tom Volk's Fungi
Tricholoma magnivelare at MykoWeb
Armillaria ponderosa at Roger's Mushrooms


Tricholoma magnivelare
British Columbia

Tricholoma magnivelare

Tricholoma magnivelare

Tricholoma magnivelare

Tricholoma magnivelare

Tricholoma magnivelare

Tricholoma nauseosum
Tricholoma nauseosum in Sweden

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Cite this page as:

Kuo, M. (2006, October). The American matsutake: Tricholoma magnivelare. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: