Public Description of Lactarius rubidus (Hesler & A.H. Sm.) Methven

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Name: Lactarius rubidus (Hesler & A.H. Sm.) Methven
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Taxonomic Classification:

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Fungi
Phylum: Basidiomycota
Class: Agaricomycetes
Order: Russulales
Family: Russulaceae

General Description:

Candy caps are small to medium-size mushrooms, with a pileus that is typically about 5 cm or less, and with coloration ranging through various burnt orange to burnt orange-red to orange-brown shades, but most typically a “ferruginous” tone in the deep orange-red range. The pileus shape ranges from broadly convex in young specimens to plane to slightly depressed in older ones; lamellae are attached to subdecurrent. The entire fruiting body is quite fragile and brittle and the stipe is hollow. Like all members of Lactarius, the fruiting body exudes a latex when broken, which in these species is whitish and watery in appearance, and is often compared to whey or nonfat milk. The latex may have little flavor or may be slightly sweet, but should never taste bitter or acrid. These species are particularly distinguishable by their scent, which has been variously compared to maple syrup, camphor, curry, fenugreek, burnt sugar, Malt-O-Meal, or Maggi-Würze. This scent may be quite faint in fresh specimens, but typically becomes quite strong when the fruiting body is dried.

Microscopically, they share features typical of Lactarius, including round to slightly ovular spores with distinct amyloid ornamentation and sphaerocysts that are abundant in the pileus and stipe trama, but infrequent in the lamellar trama123.

Diagnostic Description:

Pileus shape: papilla or umbo typically not present.
Color: various reddish or orange-brown tones, but tending toward deep “ferruginous” tones.
Lamellae: light reddish-brown to almost white,
Spores: subglobose to globose; 6.0–8.5 × 6.0–8.0 µm; ornamentation semi-connected (broken to partial reticulum).
Odor: highly aromatic and sweet to curry-like, but tending to be more maple-like than related species; strong only upon drying.3

Note that there seems to be some difference within this species between those found in coastal conifer forests and those found in more inland stands of coast live oak. The latter tend to be larger and have a more pronounced odor than coastal conifer populations. Further taxonomic investigation of is probably called for here.


Western North America


Thought to be ectotrophic, and associated with a variety of tree species, notably, coast live oak, Douglas-fir, pine, and hemlock. However, unusually for a mycorrhizal species, L. rubidus is also commonly observed growing directly on decaying conifer wood.

Look Alikes:

It is possible to mistake other distasteful or toxic species of mushrooms for candy caps or mistakenly include in such species in a larger collection of candy caps. Candy caps may also be confused with any of a large number of small, similarly-colored species of Lactarius that may be distasteful to downright toxic depending on the species and the number consumed.

Those inexperienced with mushroom identification may mistake any number of little brown mushrooms (“LBMs”) for candy caps, including the deadly galerina (Galerina marginata and allies), which can occur in the same habitat. Candy caps can be distinguished from non-Lactarius species by their fragile hollow stipe, other “LBMs” having a distinctly cartilaginous stipe. It is therefore recommended that candy caps be gathered by hand, breaking the fragile stipe in ones fingers. By this method, LBM’s with a cartilaginous stipe will easily be distinguished.4


Candy caps are considered a choice and highly sought-after edible mushroom, but are not typically consumed as vegetable the way most other edible mushrooms are consumed. Because of the strongly aromatic quality of these mushrooms, they are instead used primarily as a flavoring, much the way vanilla, saffron, or truffles are used. They impart a flavor and aroma to foods that has been compared to maple syrup or curry, but with a much stronger aroma than either of these seasonings. Candy caps are unique among edible mushrooms in that they’re often used in sweet and dessert foods, such as cookies and ice cream. They are also sometimes used to flavor savory dishes that are traditionally prepared with sweet accompaniments, such as pork, and are also sometimes used in place of curry seasoning.

They are usually used in dried form, as the characteristic aroma intensifies greatly upon drying. To use them as a flavoring, the dried mushrooms are either powdered or they are infused into one of liquid ingredients used in the dish, for example, being steeped in hot milk, much the same way whole vanilla beans are.

As a result of these culinary properties, candy caps are highly sought after by many chefs. Lactarius rubidus is commercially gathered and sold in California.567


1 Arora D. (1986). Mushrooms Demystified (2nd ed). Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press

2 Largent DL, Baroni TJ. 1988. How to Identify Mushrooms to Genus VI: Modern Genera. Arcata, CA: Mad River Press. p 73–74

3 Hesler LR, Smith AH. 1979. North American Species of Lactarius. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

4 Campbell D. 2004. The candy cap complex. Mycena News 55(3):3–4.

5 Friedman L. 1987. Wild About Mushrooms: The Mycological Society of San Francisco Cookbook

6 Treviño L. 2004 Jan 9. “Candy Caps let people flavor foods — with fungus: Mushrooms are in cookies and ice cream”. San Francisco Chronicle

7 Jung C. 2004 Jan 28. “The rare fungus that can satisfy your sweet tooth”. San Jose Mercury.


The reference to L. rubidus Arora in Index Fungorum is probably referring to “All that the Rain Promises and More”. The name L. fragilis is often misapplied to this species in the western US.

Description author: Peter G Werner (Request Authorship Credit)
Description editors: Nathan Wilson, Michael Wood, Erlon

Created: 2007-12-15 20:42:23 PST (-0800) by Nathan Wilson (nathan)
Last modified: 2013-10-18 11:45:16 PDT (-0700) by Erlon (Herbert Baker)
Viewed: 674 times, last viewed: 2019-01-01 07:06:10 PST (-0800)