Mushroom of the Month, Leptonia spp.

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by Danny Miller

Last month we talked about Pluteus, one of the two families of pink spored (actually salmon-pinkish brown spored) mushrooms. This month we will talk about the other, and in particular, some of my favourite mushrooms of all time!

Unlike Pluteus, with free gills that do NOT attach to the stem and mostly found growing on wood, Entoloma has gills that DO attach to the stem and is found mostly on the ground. They also have a unique spore shape, usually like little stop signs under a microscope instead of the usual round shape. No other mushrooms have angular spores like that, making them easy to spot.

Most mushrooms in the Entoloma family, in particular the Entolomas themselves and Nolanea are very boring. They are almost completely non-descript watery brown mushrooms of little interest. But then there are the magical Leptonias which have special pigments making them almost metallic blue or orange (and sometimes pink and the related Alboleptonia are a radiant white colour). Leptonias are usually small and graceful. Unfortunately, they are not found that often, but keep your eyes open because it will be a truly special day when you finally do find one.

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The correct names of all these mushrooms is actually kind of controversial. ‘Entoloma’ ‘madidum’ and ‘Entoloma’ nitidum are other Entoloma family members that can be pretty large and have the same metallic blue colouration. If you noticed the quotes around the names, and remember last month’s discussion, you’ll realize that those two are not really members of the Entoloma genus (although everything we talk about this month is a member of the larger Entoloma family). True Entolomas themselves are boring, remember. The latter has been renamed to Entocybe nitida, and the former has yet to receive a new genus. You might notice that not only is ‘Entoloma’ in quotes, but so is ‘madidum’. That is because our local mushroom is not the same as the European ‘Entololoma’ madidum, and thus has recently received a new name, ‘Entoloma’ medianox. The story is even more confusing in Europe, where scientists have decided that many of the mushrooms in the Entoloma family are so closely related, they should all be called Entoloma, and not be divided up into, for instance, Entoloma, Nolanea and Leptonia. Here in North America, we disagree. We don’t disagree that they are closely related, but when you look at a real Entoloma (large and boring), a Nolanea (small and boring) and a Leptonia (small and beautiful), the three groups clearly look different and rather than have hundreds and hundreds of Entolomas I believe it makes perfect sense to put them into three (or more) smaller groups that look alike to humans, especially since the smaller groups are actually the mushrooms most closely related to each other. Finally, some Leptonias are found on wood, which is unusual for anything in the Entoloma family, and those probably need a new name and should not be called Leptonia.

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Hopefully all of this ‘mycology drama’ isn’t as boring as the Nolaneas and Entolomas are, but you find it interesting to hear some stories about the kinds of things mycologists spend their time arguing about. And it is certainly always interesting to find a Leptonia. There are many other blue and orange and pink and white mushrooms around, but there is something magical about the way these special pigments glisten in the sunlight.

You can read more about Leptonias (and their boring counterparts Entoloma and Nolanea) as well as all of the other Entoloma family members on the Entoloma page of my pictorial key:

http://www.alpental.com/psms/PNWMushrooms/PictorialKey/Entolomataceae.htm