The Milk Mushrooms

contributed by Walt Sturgeon

Lactarius and Lactifluus are two genera of macro fungi that exude a liquid (latex) when the gills or upper stem are cut. They are closely related to the Russula genus. They form a symbiotic relationship with various trees including oaks, beech, and conifers. They fruit from May to October and are most abundant in July through September. Until recently they were all considered to be in the genus Lactarius. Tasting the latex of a milk mushroom is a feature in identification. The mild tasting species are edible.

There are some good edibles here and unlike their Russula cousins, they are usually free of larvae. The brownish orange capped Leather Back or Bradley, Lactifluus volemus has abundant, mild, sticky, tasting, whitish latex which will stain most surfaces (including hands) brown. The flesh and latex have a fishy odor which disappears during cooking.  An edible lookalike, Lactifluus hygrophoroides, has gills that are distant to subdistant. Another similar edible species is Lactifluus corrugis, which has a darker, wrinkled cap and has gills that are darker as well. All three of these occur with oaks. Lactifluus hygrophoroides also occurs with hemlock often along streams.

Lactifluus volemus, Pisgah NC
Lactifluus hygrophoroides
Lactifluus corrugis

Some Lactifluus species have latex which is variously described as hot, peppery, or acrid. There are four medium to large white ones. These are only edible after special preparation. Lactifluus piperatus has very crowded gills. Lactifluus also has crowded gills but its latex turns greenish after being exposed for several minutes. Lactifluus subvellereus has sub distant gills.  Lactifluus deceptivus has intermediate gill spacing. It has a veil of tissue when young that reaches but does not attach to the stem. In age there are usually stretchy remnants of this veil at the cap margin.

Lactarius contains some edible species as well. Lactarius subpurpureus occurs with hemlock. It has as pinkish silver cap. It had red latex which stains the cap flesh greenish. The orange-capped Lactarius deterrimus (sensu American authors) occurs with conifers. It has orange latex which stains its flesh greenish. These are in the Lactarius deliciosus group and typically have very sparse latex.

Lactarius subpurpureus

Both  genera are abundant and are good summer to early fall edibles.

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