With over 300 species to choose from, the Boletus, or bolete, family of mushrooms, is a large genus which is split into smaller families: principally Boletus, Leccinum, and Suillus. With so many different types of mushrooms, how can you know which ones belong to this large family? How do you identify a bolete mushroom? Keep reading to find out!
What You'll Learn Today
What is a Bolete Mushroom?
The term bolete loosely refers to mushrooms with pores, rather than gills, under the cap. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule: the gilled bolete has bright yellow gills, and the pine pikes bolete has tan or brown gills.
With over two hundred bolete species in North America alone, the good news is that many are edible. However, identification is not always easy, and there are some boletes that, while not deadly, can cause extreme discomfort.
As with any mushroom foraging endeavor, a visual reference guide and consultation with an expert are encouraged.
Location, location, location—it all begins with location. The bolete mushroom is widely found in Europe and North America.
With few exceptions, boletes are mycorrhizal fungi—they like trees and shrubs. For this reason, they can be found growing in deciduous and coniferous wooded areas; in fact, some boletes help trees resist disease and reduce environmental stress.
It’s easiest to find boletes in woodlands and forested areas, but urban ecosystems where ectomycorrhizal trees are present can also result in bolete sighting success. After all, there are still many trees and shrubs found in urban areas.
How to Identify Bolete Mushrooms
As you might imagine, not all boletes look alike–in fact, some look radically different from others. Fortunately, there are some characteristics that most boletes share; we can use these features to help us determine whether a mushroom in question is a bolete or not.
- Timing is everything: Bolete mushrooms appear in the summer and fall months. Again, look on the ground under trees—particularly pines.
- Size: Bolete fungi can reach ten inches in height, with caps between one and ten inches wide. Some larger mushrooms can chunk out at six pounds.
- Think hamburger: Many bolete mushrooms look like some variation of a brown or reddish-brown hamburger atop a bulky stalk. Pop the top, flip it over, and examine the underside of the cap—edible bolete mushroom species have thick, spongy tubes rather than gills.
Look for white, yellow, olive-green or brown flesh—red or orange flesh or pores may indicate a poisonous mushroom.
- Identifying a bolete starts with the stem: The poisonous scaber stalk boletes, for example, have thick, whitish stalks with brown flecks, or “scabers”.
On the other hand, the edible king bolete, which we’ll talk more about in a moment, is thick, white or reddish, and appears to have veins or ridges running down the length of the stem. It demonstrates a reticulation pattern–one that appears a bit like a fish net.
When looking for bolete mushrooms, check for scabers and reticulation, as well as glandular dots—sticky bits of a yellow or green substance that appears a bit like sap. You’ll also want to note the color of the mycelium around the base.
- Discoloration: One key identifying feature that many boletes share is their tendency to turn blue when bruised, sliced, or otherwise damaged.
- Pore surface: Young boletes have hard pore surfaces, like a new sponge. After absorbing some moisture, the sponge becomes soft and squishy.
Because of this, even edible boletes don’t stay good for very long. Like an avocado or banana, the moment of use is brief—they can become old and unusable quite quickly.
- Some bolete caps are covered with a layer of slime: Aficionados of healthy digestion will wash this off; the slime is a gastric irritant and may cause diarrhea.
Which Bolete Mushrooms are Edible?
If you’re new to foraging for these mushrooms, don’t eat them unless you are absolutely certain of their identity. It would be a good idea to have a more experienced forager help you learn to identify any mushrooms you plan to eat.
Some of the most popular edible bolete mushrooms are as follows:
The Holy Grail of bolete mushrooms might very well be the king bolete (also known as porcini, ceps, and penny buns). This highly coveted mushroom is rich in both flavor and texture.
Chances are that your quest to discover this royal treat will end in disappointment, as squirrels, deer, mice, insects and slugs also find this mushroom worth worshiping! It has a mild, nutty, earthy flavor that both humans and other creatures find irresistible.
The king bolete grows on the ground, as opposed to many boletes that can grow on fallen timber or trees.
This mushroom can be a chunky fellow, weighing from one to two pounds (in some cases as much as seven pounds). It not only resembles a hamburger bun, it smells like sourdough.
Admirable bolete mushrooms are another popular edible, and they are easily recognizable by their classic shape and bright colors. The flavor is earthy with unique lemony undertones.
Admirable boletes have violet to reddish brown caps and pale yellow pores. The pores may stain slightly darker yellow when the mushroom is bruised, but they don’t stain as much as other bolete mushrooms.
This mushroom most often grows on trees or wood debris of hemlock, western cedar, and fir.
Aspen bolete mushrooms, as the name suggests, grow from the ground beneath aspen (and sometimes birch) trees. This popular edible is also brightly colored but looks quite different from the king and admirable boletes.
Aspen boletes have bright orange, reddish orange, reddish-brown, or cinnamon-colored caps, and their stems are white or pale with brown scabers. Their pores are white to yellow when young and darken to an olive-brown color at maturity.
The aspen mushroom has a delicious earthy flavor similar to other edible boletes. If you’re new to eating mushrooms though, it’s a good idea to eat only a small amount at first, as some people have experienced stomach upsets from eating them.
Check out this video to learn about bolete mushrooms that you don’t want to eat:
There are many different kinds of bolete mushrooms, and each one has its own unique appearance. That said, most boletes can be identified by their caps, which are porous instead of gilled, and their thick, meaty stems.
It’s important to correctly identify the type of bolete you have before eating it, however–certain types of boletes taste bad and can give you a stomach ache.