Genus Amanita: The Blushers

A. rubescens, A. flavorubens/flavorubescens, A. novinupta, A. rubescens var. alba

 

At this point, there are officially three or four “blushers” in North America – two (or sort of three) east of the Rockies, and one on the west coast. There are other groups of Amanitas that “blush” the same brownish pink color, but somehow this is the group that ended up with the name. They have other identifying features besides the blushing, however.
Amanita rubescens, showing typical blusher stem bases and size range. These were growing under dry conditions (see the edge of the one at top right) and so haven't changed color much. Photo by Leon Shernoff

Amanita rubescens, showing typical blusher stem bases and size range. These were growing under dry conditions (see the edge of the one at top right) and so haven’t changed color much.
Photo by Leon Shernoff

Mature blushers have a definite swelling and scaliness at the base, but not a big bulb – and certainly not a real cup – although the western species can have a more substantial swelling when young, and seems to root more in general. They are all pretty much the same size: a range centered around 2-4” high and 4-5” across (although the western one is usually a bit stockier).
They also have a persistent skirt-like ring. If you have a “blushing” Amanita with a leathery cup at the base and no ring, you have an Amidella. If you have a larger, powdery mushroom with a substantial bulb that is somewhat pinkish on its own even before blushing, you have Amanita daucipes or A. roseitincta.
Amanita rubescens, shading red in age in an unusually even manner. Photo by John Denk

Amanita rubescens, shading red in age in an unusually even manner.
Photo by John Denk

“Blushing” implies a fairly light color to most of us, and the reddening of these mushrooms on the stem may be a pinkish color, especially in insect holes. But on the caps, the reddish color that develops is usually a very dark brownish red, a brownish wine color that can be darker than maroon.

Amanita rubescens

 

Amanita rubescen, just starting to gradually shade brownish red in the middle and rear. Photo by John Denk

Amanita rubescens, just starting to gradually shade brownish red in the middle and rear
Photo by John Denk

The flagship species, Amanita rubescens, has a cap which is typically a shiny grayish brown. However, it may be a lighter tan or more metallic and grayer, and these colors may shade into each other.



Amanita rubescens in age, showing typical dark red staining. Photo by Leon Shernoff

Amanita rubescens in age, showing typical dark red staining
Photo by Leon Shernoff

In age – or if it’s had a tough time emerging – it may have extensive dark red staining, and this may occur in streaks and other irregular forms. Because of the frequently irregular shapes of this bruising (for example, if the caps have to make their way up through ground with dense roots) it often makes the caps look dirty or stained.



Young Amanita rubescens, with cap showing "sloping marshmallow" shape. Note the round, reddened bite taken out of the base of the mushroom on the left, and the cap in the center. Photo by Leon Shernoff

Young Amanita rubescens, with cap showing “sloping marshmallow” shape. Note the round, reddened bite taken out of the base of the mushroom on the left, and the cap in the center.
Photo by Leon Shernoff

For a while when it is just out of the button stage but not fully expanded, it often has a distinctive “sloping marshmallow” shape, where the center of the cap is fairly flat, and then there are abruptly sloping sides which are only slightly curved. Check the flavorubens tab to see how this shape plays out developmentally as the mushroom opens.
 

Taxonomy

Our North American blusher is genetically distinct from the original Amanita rubescens, which is European; but the North American blusher doesn’t have an official name of its own yet, so we’re stuck using A. rubescens until something official goes through.

Amanita flavorubens/flavorubescens

 

Amanita flavorubens, dark brown color form Photo by John Denk

Amanita flavorubens, dark brown color form
Photo by John Denk

The “yellow blusher” is theoretically is just a version of the blusher with a yellow universal veil. However, besides that difference it has the greatest color variety of this group. Its cap can be a bright yellow through all sorts of shades of brown, which is more common. As you can see from the photos on this page, it also tends to be a bit smaller than A. rubescens.


An orange A. flavorubens Photo by John Denk

An orange A. flavorubens
Photo by John Denk

In cases in between the brown and yellow colors, you can end up with a weird burnt orange color on the cap.


Amanita flavorubens, yellow color form. You can also see yellow universal veil material coloring the edge of the ring yellow, and scattered a bit on the ground. Photo by John Denk

Amanita flavorubens, yellow color form. You can also see yellow universal veil material coloring the edge of the ring yellow, and scattered a bit on the ground.
Photo by John Denk

The yellow-colored ones can look a bit like other Amanitas with a yellow universal veil, like Amanita flavoconia and A. frostiana. However, it is much larger than them. Note in the three photos above on this tab how the cap opens: the central area stays flat, while the sides come up like an umbrella.


Amanita flavorubens in hand. Photo by Leon Shernoff

Amanita flavorubens in hand.
Photo by Leon Shernoff

At right, a small Amanita flavorubens. You can see the very slim swelling at the base of the stalk. To the left of my thumb, a few bites taken out of the stem have turned dark pink. Although most of the flakes on the cap have bleached white, there’s one directly facing the camera, at the very edge of the cap, that’s still yellow. The ring is hidden under the cap.
 

Taxonomy

There are two names in use for this species: Amanita flavorubens (Berkeley & Montagne) E.-J. Gilbert (from 1856), and Amanita flavorubescens Atkinson (from 1902). As you can see, they both had pretty much the same idea: a mushroom that was yellow (“flavo”) and turned red (“rub(esc)ens”). As you can also see, Berkeley and Montagne’s name is about 50 years older, which means that it takes precedence, assuming that both names refer to the same mushroom. Berkeley and Montagne were European mycologists, by the way; but they state explicitly that the specimens they are basing the new name on come from Ohio. So it’s not a case of a name for a European species being applied mistakenly to an American one.
It’s not clear why Atkinson felt his own name was necessary — his own description of the new species makes no mention of how it differs from Berkeley and Montagne’s, and he was a conscientious worker; so it looks like he just didn’t know about the older name. Here we follow the officially correct path and go with A. flavorubens in the text. For many years, however, the name flavorubescens was much more well known in North America, so we list it here to match up with most of your books and so on.

Amanita novinupta

 

A group of Amanita novinupta Photo by Christian Schwartz

A group of Amanita novinupta
Photo by Christian Schwartz

The western blusher, A. novinupta, starts off completely white. It is not exactly a stocky mushroom, but at adulthood it is a bit more robust than the standard eastern blushers. The buttons (like the one on the right) sometimes have a much larger bulb at the base of the stem than one ever sees in the eastern blushers – or the mature novinupta.
A. novinupta button, showing pink staining. Photo by  Ron Pastorino

A. novinupta button, showing pink staining.
Photo by Ron Pastorino

It is also more likely to turn a delicate color that a non-mycologist would actually call pink, rather than the dark wine-brown that is more typical of the eastern blushers where bruised (on the cap) or cut (on the base).



Older A. novinupta Photo by Hugh Smith

Older A. novinupta
Photo by Hugh Smith

Of course, in old age, it can acquire dark brownish-red stains, just like the easterners.



A. novinupta, showing depth of rooting base Photo by Debbie Viess

A. novinupta, showing depth of rooting base
Photo by Debbie Viess

Whether young or old, it tends to root down into the ground a bit more than the eastern blushers.

Amanita novinupta group Photo by  Ron Pastorino

Amanita novinupta group
Photo by Ron Pastorino

Here’s one more picture, just for the beauty of it.

Amanita rubescens var. alba

 

Amanita rubescens var. alba, showing some bruising above the ring. Photo by Eric Smith

Amanita rubescens var. alba, showing some bruising above the ring
Photo by Eric Smith

The eastern all-white blusher is called A. rubescens var. alba. The idea is that it’s an albino version of A. rubescens; and sometimes it looks like that. But other collections seem quite stocky, like A. novinupta. Which taxa it is affiliated with – and even whether it is only one taxon itself – still await investigation. In any case, you can see the beginnings of the brownish red bruising, and the small, slightly swollen stalk base.
A. rubescens var. alba buttons Photo by Eric Smith

A. rubescens var. alba buttons
Photo by Eric Smith

As you can see, it is perfectly capable of turning the same deep brownish red as its more mainstream cousin.



Young Amanita rubescens var. alba, showing just a tinge of pink staining here and there Photo by Eric Smith

Young Amanita rubescens var. alba, showing just a tinge of pink staining here and there
Photo by Eric Smith

But until that happens, it is a much whiter mushroom than the standard A. rubescens.



A. rubescens var. alba, showing dark red staining Photo by  Erlon Bailey

A. rubescens var. alba, showing dark red staining
Photo by Erlon Bailey

But when it does stain darkly, the effect can be more dramatic than on the standard rubescens.