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North American Foetid Russulas 

[ Basidiomycetes > Russulales > Russulaceae > Russula . . . ]

by Michael Kuo

Any number of Russula species could be said to have a "foetid" odor. A quick search through Russula literature renders species that smell "of shrimp or crab," "of cooked apples," "of old wine-casks," "rancid, cheesy, or oily," "disagreeable," "odd," and so on. One group of russulas, however, is characterized by a smell that ranges from sweetly waxy or spermatic, to strongly fragrant and reminiscent of maraschino cherries or benzaldehyde. The odor (or, better said, the range of odors) is hard to describe, but fairly unmistakeable once you are familiar with it. Russulas with this odor, taxonomically speaking, make up subsection Foetentinae of section Ingratae. Most of the species have cream-colored spore prints and distinctive tastes (waxy, oily, acrid, etc.), and the cap colors in the group range from brown to versions of yellow and orange. The key below treats the mushrooms in this group, rather than any russula that could conceivably be described as having a foul or "foetid" smell.

The major species among the foetid russulas are fairly easily distinguished without a microscope on the basis of close observation, taste, and odor. However, in some instances a microscope is probably needed to be sure of identification. As is usually the case in mushroom identification, you will fare much better if you have collected fresh specimens representing several stages of development.


Russula mutabilis

Russula fragrantissima

Russula pectinatoides

Key to 12 Foetid Russulas in North America  

1.Cap mottled with reddish brown and olive; stem surface and flesh bruising slowly red, then blackish; taste acrid; spores with very low warts (extending only to about .3 µ); known from eastern North America.
Russula burkei

1.Not completely as above.

2.Cap brownish orange to orangish brown; stem becoming yellow to orangish yellow with age, bruising dark red from the base upwards; cap margin with yellowish powder when young; KOH on cap surface deep red; associated with oaks in eastern North America.

2.Not completely as above.

3.Stem yellowish, spotted with purplish shades; cap margin not lined; spore ornamentation 0.1-0.3 µ high.
Russula lilacipes

3.Not completely as above.

4.Cap covered or dusted with granules, powdery flakes, or crust-like material, at least when young (be sure to check the margin).

4.Cap without granules, powdery flakes, or crust-like material.

5.Granules and flakes crustlike, reddish brown to yellowish brown; microscopically composed of smooth elements that are colorless to yellowish brown when mounted in water.
Russula granulata

5.Granules and flakes soft, orangish to yellowish or yellow; microscopically composed of warted, roughened elements that are yellow when mounted in water.

6.Growing in sand, often near pines; cap yellowish brown or grayish yellow; stem thick and solid, flushed with purplish red; taste acrid.

6.Not completely as above.

7.Cap fairly fragile, straw-colored to pale brown; the margin lined and pimply, often with tiny pinkish to cinnamon spots; taste mild or merely slightly acrid or oily; odor mildly oily/waxy or spermatic, and faintly reminiscent of maraschino cherries.

7.Not completely as above.

8.Cap tan to dark brown.

8.Cap more or less yellow, yellowish, or pale orangish brown.

9.Growing under conifers in the Pacific Northwest, California, and possibly elsewhere in western North America; spore ornamentation featuring scattered but frequent connecting lines that occasionally form partial reticula.
Russula cerolens
(see R. amoenolens)

9.Growing under hardwoods or conifers across North America; spore ornamentation featuring mostly isolated warts that lack connecting lines.

10.Spores with isolated warts; connectors scattered and infrequent; cap pale orangish brown to pale yellowish brown.

10.Spores with frequent connectors that form partial or complete reticula; cap dull yellow.

11.Spores with warts and ridges up to about 1 high.

11.Spores with striking warts and ridges from 1-2.5 high (characterized by one author as "wings").


Burlingham, G. S. (1924). Notes on species of Russula. Mycologia 16: 16–23.

Kibby, G. & R. Fatto (1990). Keys to the species of Russula in northeastern North America. Somerville, NJ: Kibby-Fatto Enterprises. 70 pp.

Murrill, W. A. (1940). Additions to Florida Fungi--III. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 67: 145–154.

Roberts, C. (2007). Russulas of southern Vancouver Island coastal forests. Doctoral dissertation, University of Victoria. Victoria BC, Canada.

Shaffer, R. L. (1972). North American russulas of the subsection Foetentinae. Mycologia 64: 1008–1053.

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Cite this page as:

Kuo, M. (2009, February). North American foetid russulas. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site:

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