Monday, October 26, 2015

Matsutake and it's Look-a-Likes

Spend a little time browsing online mushroom forums and you discover that some people are very apprehensive about picking Pine Mushrooms (Tricholoma magnivelare) because they are not easy to distinguish from the plethora of other large white mushrooms found on Vancouver Island and other locations in the Pacific Northwest. Others are cavalier, saying that once you know a Matsutake, you will never mistake it for anything else. I'm somewhere in the middle of these poles.

The biggest fear on Vancouver Island is picking and eating a Smith's Amanita.
I've seen a fair number of Smith's Amanitas in my forays, and have never been tempted to bring one home. The damp cottony or fluffy material that seems to cover them has a strange unpleasant feel and the smell is very off-putting. I have been told, however, that some Smith's Amanitas can smell remarkably like a Pine at different stages of their development, and are most often mistaken when in the button or an early stage of fruiting like the ones pictured on the right below.

Confusing matters for me is that most of the Pines I have found have not had a strong spicy, cinnamony, or "red hot" odor. I knew they were not Smith's Amanita, but since so much is made of their odor, I have wondered if it was my nose, the areas I've found them, or some other factors that make it harder for me to smell that "Matsutaki smell." I had heard there was a close cousin to the Pine in our woods, but had forgotten what it was called. I had this vague idea that maybe that was what I was finding.

Smith's Amanita taken by Joe Anderson,
The only other mushrooms that came to mind, besides the Smith's Amanita, that might be confused with a Pine were the big Russelas (Cascade and Short Stemmed) and the Death Cap and Destroying Angel. I decided to do some more serious research and find out what the common look-a-likes are and then compile what I find here for future reference.

As suspected, Death Cap, Destroying Angel, and the Russelas are hard to confuse with a Matsutake so I ended up focusing on the 3 Mushrooms most likely to be confused with a Pine Mushroom, the Tricholoma caligatum, Catathelasma ventricosum (and its close cousin the Catathelasma imperiale) and of course Amanita smithiana. I gathered the relevant info in a chart below.

One of the most helpful online resources in my research was was "Matsis and Wannabees: A Primer on Pine Mushrooms by Britt A. Bunyard in Volume 6:4 of FUNGI (2013). This is perhaps the best readily available and readable article I could find.

Also very extensive and useful is: 

In my research I referenced "Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest," "Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America: A Field-to-Kitchen Guide," and "Common Mushrooms of the Northwest," as well as the following websites:,,,,, and

Pine Mushrooms and Their Look-a-Likes

Common Name Pine Mushroom,
 Fragrant Tricholoma, Fragrant Boot, Booted tricholoma, Fragrant Armillaria Cat, Big Cat, Imperial Cat Smith's Amanita
Tricholoma magnivelare Tricholoma caligatum (formerly - Armillaria caligata) Catathelasma ventricosum and Catathelasma Imperiale Amanita smithiana and Amanita silvicola
Main Distinction from a Pine Mushroom There appears to be a growing concensus that the mushroom we call a Pine here on Vancouver Island is Tricholoma magnivelare and that it is different from Tricholoma matsutake.

The similarities are, however, so striking that for our pruposes we can call our Pine a Matsutakes.
Generally more brown with more fibrils on the cap

Smaller cap when mature

Boot shaped fibrous veil (sometimes)

highly variable taste, usually bitter

Less common
Double veil and amyloid spores. (Double veil can be hard to distinguish

More grey or brown than white

No spicy odor

Prefers Spruce

Larger -- can have caps  that are a foot across when fully mature (Imperiale)

Both are rare on Vancouver Island
Usually ghostly white, with a more slender stipe, and covered in fluffy ragged patches and warts

Firm, but not as firm as a Pine Mushroom and not as likely to pull apart like string cheese.

Usually smells different than a Pine, unpleasant.
Cap Dry

Mostly White

Smooth, sometimes with faint scale-like brown  splotches. Others describe as "slightly shaggy"

Occasionally grey or brown in colour all over

Cap edge is in-rolled

5 - 20 cm or larger


Mostly brown (light to deep brown to chestnut) surface over white

Others describe the colour by refering to the prominent dark brown vinaceous fibrils that cover white flesh, sometimes separating in age to reveal the whitish or pinkish flesh beneath.

Cap edge is in-rolled

4 - 12 cm across

Sometimes with remnants of the partial veil attached, most of which remains as a ring.
Generally dry but Imperiale can be sticky with young.

Brownish to grey.

Cap edge has a strongly in-rolled margin

5 - 15 cm (ventricosum)
5 - 40 cm (Imperiale)
Moist or dry

White with cotton -like warts


Often presence of clingy cottony remnants of veil hanging from edge of cap

12 - 20 cm across
or  5 - 17cm across (depending on age)
Gills White to cinnamon coloured with age

Tricholoma means it has notched (adnexed) gills, white spores, and is mycorrhizal (symbiotic relationship with photosynthesizing plants/trees)
White, becoming spotted brown with age

Tricholoma means it has notched (adnexed) gills, white spores, and is mycorrhizal (symbiotic relationship with photosynthesizing plants/trees)
Long, decurrent, crowded, narrow

Extend down stipe
White to cream coloured sometimes pinkish, closely crowded, floccose edges

free to narrowly adnate, sometimes with a faint decurrent line on stem apex, close to crowded
Spores White White White, amyloid White
Stipe Firm

Pointed at the base

White above ring
white below ring but often with brown streaked areas

Sometimes expanded at base

Usually grey soil and fibrals at base

Pointed at the base

White but often also covered with brown fibrils or reddish brown spots (with age)

Pointed at the base
Firm, but generally not as firm as Tricholoma magnivelare

White, usually above and below ring.

veil leaves soft powdery or cottony covering.

Generally thickening towards base but can be pointed at base or club shapped

Can have

Often grey soil at base.
Veil Thick membranous

Sheaths the stipe, white at first, forming prominent cottony ring that flares out at first, then collapses against stem when old
Stipe below the ring often bears brown fibrils like those on the cap, giving the mushroom the appearance of wearing a boot, hense, caligatum (Latin for boot) has two viels, an inner one that leaves a ring on the upper stipe, with one lower down as well. shaggy cotton-like remnant remains on young speciments, leaves a fragile, ragged ring that easily falls off.
Habitat Conifer forests

Conifer forests Under sitka spruce, western hemlock & Douglas fir

Usually in calcareous soils

 forming arcs or rings of fruiting bodies
Conifer forests, also alder and mixed forests

Can be soil or well-rotted wood
Odor and Taste  distinctly spicy-aromatic.

"organic (not earthy or mushroomy) smell"
 Usually reported to be unpleasant in the PNW. Sometimes claimed to have a similar odor to magnivelare.

Some claim it is a minder smelling mushroom while others claim caligatum is more cinnamony.
Has a strong farinaceous odor and taste. A common mushroomy smell like that of cucumbers, watermelon rind, or an old grain mill

"tastes mealy" -
Not spicy, often described as chlorine like, often as unpleasant. Also described as mild to pungent.

A number of reports say it smells similar to a Pine Mushroom.
"...sometimes edible and good, but sometimes very bitter and foul tasting." - Tom Volk

Indicator Species Candystick (Allotropa vigata) or Booted Knight (tricholoma focale)

Notes Stipe peels somewhat like string cheese.

Usually distributed in clusters on the narrow mountain ridges and southfacing slopes.
"Another similar species, the booted tricholoma..., can be found mixed with pine mushroom at buying stations in British Columbia (Marty Kranabetter, B.C. Ministry of Forests, and Tyson Ehlers, Tysig Ecological Consultants, pers. comms., 2000)"- BC Journal of Ecosystems and Management Is the booted tricholoma in British Columbia really Japanese matsutake?

A California version of Tricholoma caligatum (sensu Shanks, 1994) grows under conifers from "November to December in northern coastal forests and low elevation montane forests of the Sierra Nevada"; it is extremely bitter. Given its widely different mycorrhizal associations, it may well be a distinct species. I have collected a mild-tasting form of Tricholoma caligatum under spruce and fir in the Rocky Mountains. -

"Tricholoma caligatum smells weakly of
matsutakes and indeed is often collected
and eaten as such." - Britt A. Bunyard

"There are more and darker (purplish-brown) fibrils or scales on the cap and stipe of T. caligatum, which is smaller and less robust [than magnivelare]. Its aroma also has a sharper, cinnamon candy (Red Hots) component lacking from the pine mushroom’s musty and spicy smell." -
There are two species, both occure in the Pacific Northwest, Cathathlasma ventricosum (pale grayish cap) and C Imperiale (brown Cap)

No official confirmation it occurs on Vancouver Island
Often tall stature and "ghostly white all over"

Warts can become tan colored when dried out

Usually appears to have a ragged scaly stem with spindle-shaped bulb that is often rooting

Very common

An old specimen can look quite different from a fresh one

"Amanita smithiana has free gill attachment and being from section Lepidella, it is quite powdery.  The texture of the flesh should be pretty different as well.  Matsutake has a pretty stringy texture, while Amanitas can not be peeled like string cheese."

Here is a longer up-close HD video of one of my Tricholoma magnivelare as I was not able to find any good quality ones on-line:


  1. I'm going to try to find Matsutakes on Mt Benson on November 7th & 8th with friends if the weather models aren't spinning lies.

  2. Good Luck Miles, I was out for 4 hours today and only came home with a few Hedghogs. I was in the Parksville area and saw a tremendous amount of evidence of people picking in the woods. Whole swathes of forest with suspicious looking holes where Pine Mushrooms likely were. Someone found a bunch BEFORE I got there. All I found were a few rejects that were getting moldy. Look forward to hearing that you have better success. I agree, we need a good dousing here in Nanaimo to bring them out, though it looks like Mike Orr is finding some. Not sure how far out of Nanaimo he is going....

    1. I would go further north Richard. Try the mountains adjacent to either side of Cameron Lake. They have had sufficient rain up there and it is still warm relative to other parts of the island.

    2. Hi Miles, I was up near Cameron Lake and there were pickers everywhere. I guess that corridor is pretty tempting and easy to access for a lot of people. So today I went on up to the Sayward Forest past Campbell River. Golden Chanterelles and Hedgehogs just about at the end of the season there, lots of rotten ones, but I came home with a decent bag full. Tons of Winter Chanterelles too -- the size of coasters! Also found some truly mammoth Elfin Saddles. I'll be uploading some video tomorrow from the trip soon...

    3. I mentioned that one a bit too late. I found porcinis and matsutakes last sunday at Cameron Lake. It is a good place because it's accessible, the hills aren't too steep, there are lots of mature conifer and scattered areas with almost no understory other than scattered moss and salaal.

      About hedgehogs... One of my biggest hedgehog finds was in Colliery Park in the middle of winter. They will come as long as the weather is warm, and sometimes stragglers will even continue into the spring when the morels begin to fruit.

  3. Hey, Miles, good to hear you have been making some good finds! Interesting about the hedgehogs. I have found them late into November, but not much past that. Never in the spring! Wow, you must be diligent in your hunting for them. I do find that after the first frost the are easier to find among the dense salal. I hope this good rain we have had the last few days will bring out some choice mushrooms here in the Nanaimo area....

    1. The place I found them in spring was in the area above Morell nature sanctuary before the military stopped people from entering it.

    2. Ah, yes, I've walked up that way, never found too many edibles, but I guess that just shows you, there are mushrooms in almost every wood, for those with eyes and patience!

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