Russula xerampelina (Schaeff.) Fr. (1838)                                     *Collections: North America

This is one of the "classic" Russula species that seems to be widely distributed across the Northern hemisphere. This is one presents interest even to those who crave more for food than theoretical knowledge. The mushroom is easily identified in the field based on its strong (rotting) seafood odor, which intensifies with age. Thus the popular name "Shrimp Russula". To my palate, the odor remains even after the species has been cooked. Also, it has a tendency for the stem to turn yellowish to light brown when bruised, but this feature is shared by other Russulas too and cannot be used in isolation. Finally it the Shrimp Russula has a mild taste and yellow spores. That pretty much is all the identification trouble one needs to go through in order to have a decent lunch.

Collection: Colorado Rockies

Very large fruitbodies  -- Coastal California, Marin County
The situation changes dramatically once we enters the nomenclatural paradise. Various authors have mixed a pretty good taxonomic stew around each color form. There 15-16 varieties around Russula xerampelina and most of these were described from Europe. In general there is little agreement between various authors on what each variety is and even less common ground on the habitat. In addition, whether these varieties can be applied directly to North American material will require a lengthy investigation, but the odds are that they will not. Therefore, except for Russula graveolens and var. elaeodes, I am treating the rest of Russula xerampelina as one large cluster of species varieties and forms, very similarly to the way the mycophagists do. Is there a typical look for this species then it probably is the classic carmine red and pinkish stipe. From there it tends to be a very variable concept with its of darker burgundy coloration and paler cream and greenish hues. Once I grew totally frustrated with a bunch of Shrimp Russulas from Sierra Nevada who refused to share their identity and in turn I helped myself by cooking the entire herbarium - it was a superb soup that could have taken several man years of work to do the proper nomenclature on. "If you can beat the id, eat it..."

R. xerampelina & Russula olivacea

Colorado Rockies

For those who like to act smart in the field, the identification can be supported by rubbing some Iron Sulphate and observing the greenish reaction. Note that it is mixed between brown as a result of the mechanical bruising and the greenish as a result of the FeSO4. Keep in mind that most Russula species turn pinkish when treated with FeSO4, but many turn green in after a few hours. Anyway, hope you enjoyed your lunch...

This one is a Shrimp Russula too...