The Red- and Orange-Capped Leccinums

As of November, 2015 attempts to quantify the North American Red- and Orange-Capped Leccinums can only be described as a wet, hot mess. You can find an excellent set of discussions by Dr. Michael Kuo at his site, including one on the North American mushroom formerly known as L. aurantiacum, another on the North American Leccinum problem in general, and this giant Leccinum poster to show the issues visually.

How bad can it be? Consider this:

  • The primary distinguishing feature for red-capped leccinums is what tree they are growing with, combined with the color of the scabers and the staining characteristic for the flesh. Those are all helpful indicators.
  • The primary problem with distinguishing the red-capped leccinums is the fact that the various species are not polite enough to restrict themselves to a particular type of tree even if they have a preference, and will vary both their scaber color and their staining characteristics according to age, environmental effects, and other normal variations within the species.
  • Thus the indicators cannot be used as actual proof. They just help you establish the odds.

Frustrated yet? Just wait! It gets even more confusing.

First we need to start with a bit of history. In Europe there are several well-defined species: L. aurantiacum, which has red-brown scabers & grows under hardwoods, L. vulpinum, which has black scabers & grows under conifers, L. piceinum, a duller-capped species that grows under spruce, etc. All are excellent edibles that were much desired by the European settlers in North America.

Simply using the European names would have been bad enough, but relatively easy to solve by assigning new ones depending on whether genetic tests proved that any given species could or couldn’t span both sides of the Atlantic. Such was not to be, however.

The settlers did not just import the European names. Instead they used use the single name “aurantiacum” to describe all of the red-capped North American red-caps without regard to what tree they grew with, how they stained, or how the scaber colors might vary. And, indeed, most of the so called “aurantiacum” found in North America was actually growing with some kind of conifer. In other words the only thing we can guarantee is that the mushroom known as L aurantiacum across the Northeast is not the actual aurantiacum from Europe. It may actually be L. vulpinum but even that isn’t clear because the Leccinums have lagged behind badly when it comes to DNA tests.

The bottom line is this: The people who know these things are morally certain that (a) the North American red-capped Leccinums include a spectrum of similar-looking species, (b) pretty much all the names in the field guides will someday have to be changed as those species get better defined, and (c) there are probably some European species mixed in just to keep us all on our toes. Until that gets settled out my solution will be to have the Bolete Filter use the old, known-to-be-improper names as “placeholders” for whatever is going to happen in the future. Here are the basic dividing lines:


NamePlaceholder or SpeciesAssociatesCap ShadeScaber ColorFlesh Staining
cf. AurantiacumPlaceholderPoplar & oak, but also birch & hardwoods in generalBright orange or redRed-brownFirst reddish, then darkening to purple-gray or black
InsignePlaceholderBirch & aspenRusty-orange to cinnamon-brownBrownPurple-gray with no red phase
cf. PiceinumPlaceholderSpruceDull OrangeStart white, age through orange to brown/blackFirst reddish, then darkening to purple-gray or black
cf. VulpinumPlaceholderPine & aspen, or other conifersBright orange or redBlackFirst reddish, then darkening to purple-gray or black


NamePlaceholder or SpeciesAssociatesCap ShadeScaber ColorFlesh Staining
ArenicolaSpeciesSandy Atlantic beaches with beach grass & the likeOrange to yellow-orangeWhite-buff aging to tan or yellow-brownFirst reddish, then darkening to purple-gray or black
AreolatumSpeciesBirch & aspenPale pinkish-cinnamonBlackFirst lilac, then darkening to purple-gray or black
DiscolorSpeciesPine & aspenOrange (from yellow- to brown-)Brown-BlackFirst pinkish, then darkening to purple-gray or black
PotteriSpeciesLarge-toothed aspen & oakTawny- to brick-orange, often with white patches from a baby veilWhite-buff aging through yellow-brown to brown-blackFirst reddish, then darkening to purple-gray or black
PseudoinsigneSpeciesBirch & aspenYellow to red-orange, sometimes viscidWhite aging through orange-brown to blackYoungsters stain reddish cinnamon & resolve to bluish-brown or gray.


Mature specimens stain violet-gray.

SubtestaceumSpeciesBirch & aspenRusty- to orange-red, sometimes liver-coloredBlackPurple-gray with no red phase
cf. VersipelleSpeciesBirch, but also beech & oakOrange, aging to pinkish tanBlackFirst reddish, then darkening to purple-gray or black



NamePlaceholder or SpeciesAssociatesCap ShadeScaber ColorFlesh Staining
AeneumSpeciesManzanita, bearberry, & their relativesRed-, orange, or copper-orangeFine, starting white & soon aging to brown-blackPurplish gray without a red phase
ArctostaphylosSpeciesKinnikinnick at higher elevations or bearberry in the tundraBrick orange, sometimes tackyWhitish, aging through orange-brown to brown.Pale bluish gray without a red phase
ArmeniacumSpeciesMadroneApricot-orange, viscid, often pittedWhitePinkish, if at all
BarrowsiiSpeciesConifers in New MexicoPale rose-pinkWhite, aging/drying to dark grayUnknown
FallaxSpeciesConifersRusty-red to dark red-brownWhite-buff, bruising reddish-brownDNS
FibrillosumSpeciesConifersReddish brownBlackFirst reddish, then darkening to purple-gray or black
LargentiiSpeciesToyon, madrone, or manzanitaOrange-red to red-brown, sometimes tackyBrown-black, sometimes forming nettingFirst pink, then darkening to purple-gray or black
ManzanitaeSpeciesManzanita or madroneRed or red-brown, viscidWhite, darkening to gray-blackPurplish gray without a red phase
PonderosumSpeciesDecaying pinesOrange to brick-redPurple-black, bruising blueDNS
SubalpinumSpeciesHigh altitude conifersRed-brown to rusty-redWhite-buff, bruising reddish brownDNS or purplish gray without a red phase