Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month for June 1998

This month's fungus is Pluteus cervinus, the deer mushroom.

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Pluteus cervinus Pluteus cervinus is an extremely common mushroom in the midwestern and eastern parts of North America, and can be common elsewhere as well. It can be found fruiting on very rotten logs almost any time of the year -- except when it's too cold or snow is on the ground. It is distinguished by its fawn-colored cap and its pink gills, usually fruiting singly or sometimes in small groups. The cap varies in size from 1 cm to 10 cm across. Pluteus species are wood decay fungi, growing on hardwoods, and they seem to attack logs very late in the course of decay. They can often be found when no other mushrooms are fruiting. Pluteus cervinus is an edible mushroom, but it is not highly prized by most mycophagists (mushroom eaters). It's the kind of mushroom that, when you return from a day of mushroom hunting and people ask what you found, you say-- "oh, just some Pluteus. unnnnh... " But it's not really *that* bad-- I know at least one person for whom this is a favorite! There's no accounting for taste.

The other common pink-spored Basidiomycota that grows on wood are member of the genus Volvariella shown here to the right. Volvariella volvacea, but members of that genus have a distinct volva, or cup, at the base of the stipe. Pluteus species have no such volva. The volva is the remnant of the universal veil that covers the entire fruiting body when it's in the primordial stage, and can also be found in Amanita species. However Amanita species have a white spore print, are mycorrhizal, and are found on the ground fruiting from the roots of trees; most Amanita species also have an annulus, a ring around the stalk that is the remnant of the partial veil. I don't recommend you eat Volvariella species unless you are very very sure of your identification.
Another large group of pink-spored mushrooms are Entoloma species. These are mostly saprophytic fungi that grow on the ground. Their spores are also very warty or angular. distinguishing them from the smooth spores of Pluteus. You must also be very careful about eating Entoloma species, since many of them are poisonous.

surface of Pluteus cervinus gill showing cystidia Pluteus cervinus cystidium closeup

So why is the common name of Pluteus cervinus the "deer mushroom?" Well some people claim that the name comes from the deer colored top of the cap. But those of us who have access to microscopes know better. The name comes from the spectacular cystidia that are found on the hymenium, on the surface of the gills of the mushroom. They stick out well past the basidia and have projections on the end, like the antlers of a deer. The spores are not attached to the cystidia, but rather to the smaller basidia.

So, here

's an example of a mushroom that is somewhat "underwhelming" in appearance when you find it in the woods, but once you bring it back to the microscope and start to take a closer look, you can see something that's really interesting and even beautiful. You don't need any high power microscopes to see these cystidia. The microscopic characters are often a key to identification, and once you start looking at them you'll be hooked!

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