A Tale of many Names

© Michael Wood
Original publication: Fungi Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 5, 2014

Chromosera cyanophylla is probably the most beautiful mushroom in California that you may never see. Its habitat is coniferous logs, primarily fir. It’s not uncommon on red fir logs (Abies magnifica) in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and in north coastal California on grand fir (Abies grandis). It most often grows hidden under the bark of the rotting fir logs, making it very easy to miss unless you know where to look.

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The cap of this mushroom is lilac to lavender when young, but soon fades to yellowish orange, yellow, pale yellow, or buff. The young gills are lavender, fading to pinkish-lavender, pale lilac, pink, or cream. The vivid colors continue with the lavender to yellow stipe down to the conspicuous lavender mycelium at the stipe’s base.

This mushroom was first named Agaricus cyanophyllus by Elias Magnus Fries in 1861 and transferred to Omphalina by Lucien Quélet in 1886. In the United States, Charles Horton Peck named the new species Agaricus lilacinus in 1872, but renamed it Agaricus lilacifolius in 1878 when he realized the former name was already in use by a European species. William Alphonso Murrill transferred it to Omphalina in 1916 and Alexander Hanchett Smith transferred it to Mycena in 1947. Besides Omphalina and Mycena, 20th century taxonomic treatments have also placed this taxon in Clitocybe and Hygrocybe. North American mycologists of my generation learned this species as Mycena lilacifolia and European mycologists called it Omphalina lilacifolia.

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The various generic names used for this species should give you a hint that maybe it really doesn’t belong in any of them. In 1995 Scott Redhead, Joseph Ammirati, and Lorelei Norvell thought so and erected a new genus for this taxon, Chromosera, named in honor of Meinhard Moser and also alluding to its beautiful coloration “chromos.” The oldest specific for the taxon was the Fries name, so it became Chromosera cyanophylla. In creating the new genus, the authors indicated that they thought it close, but distinct, from Mycena and placed the genus in the Mycenae. They were wrong about its relationships; genetic analysis strongly supports Chromosera being in the Hygrophoraceae.

• For a description, many more photographs, and references to pertinent literature, see the Chromosera cyanophylia page at California Fungi
• For information on the forthcoming book, California Mushrooms, go to: www.californiamushrooms.us
• The Fungi Magazine PDF of this article is also available.

We may have yet another name coming for the western United States species as its ITS (DNA) sequence is 5% different from the European material. It is possible that the eastern United States name from Peck might be available, but it is not known how close the eastern US mushroom is to the western US or European as there is currently no sequence data from Eastern collections.

 Whatever you call it, don’t forget to call it beautiful!

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