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The Amatuer Mycologist #27 - Pluteus cervinus - "The Deer Mushroom"

The Amatuer Mycologist #27 - Pluteus cervinus - "The Deer Mushroom"

These posts are not for foraging. They are intended for entertainment and intellectual satisfaction only. These posts are not a field guide nor comprehensive in any way - their accuracy is not assured in any way. Do not eat wild mushrooms unless you are a professional, have substantial professional assistance or have a wealth of personal experience with a specific species. Do not make any foraging decisions based on these posts. To do so could be dangerous or life threatening.

These Posts Contains No Information Regarding Edibility Or Toxicity

Don't let their plainness fool you - Pluteus cervinus has a lot going on under the hood

Sometimes you stumble upon a mushroom that just screams at you from the ground. Certain earthstars, for instance, could easily be mistaken for extra terrestrial lifeforms, while photogenic polypores can stick out like peacocks in contrast to the drab forest floor.

But now and again you will find a plain mushroom that has no apparent uniqueness whatsoever. On it's face, Pluteus cervinus is totally that mushroom.

It's got an unremarkable cap, that varies primarily within a range of browns and earthtones, and when young, mostly white or whitish gills. The stem is mostly white, with just a little brown here and there nearer the bottom sometimes. The flesh is white. The whole thing appears wholly uninteresting.

But if you dive just little deeper, or maybe a lot deeper, P.cervinus turns out to be downright weird.


First, before we shrug off the mushrooms basic appearance, let's take a closer look.

The cap is not a show stopper, but it does have slight fibers or hairs here and there on its surface, along with a small amount of deteitus indicating it might once have been sticky. The color takes on a little more depth up close, but this one is really pretty plain brown overall.

The young mushroom starts convex, but it eventually flattens out - eventually even upturning the gills around the edges as they get older.

I accidentally deleted the pictures of the fresh mushroom with its whitish colored gills - but a subtle color change happens when the spores begin to be released.


The gills take on a pinkish tone, and up close, bear the hint of ejected spore material.

It is at this point that the gills become upturned around the edges, or at least the specimen I found did.

One other important macroscopic feature for this mushroom is that The gills are not attached to the stem.

I lost the photo that showed the unattached gills near the stem - but this macro video displays the gap remaining after the stem was easily removed, without causing damage to the gills.

That about does it for the macroscopic identifiers. What will a spore print reveal.


A pinkish, brownish, orangish (dark salmon?) color that seems to have no relation whatsoever to the mushroom it came from.

The spore print is the first nice surprise. I've applied a slight filter on this picture to try to get a better sense of the true color - the photo made it more pure orange-brown when in reality it had some pink in it.

If you had no access to microscopic equipment, you could probably rely on the traits we've covered so far to get a bead on P.cervinus.

However, the real distinguishing weirdness is happening microscopically!

spores with measurments.png

First, here are the spores with measurements.

As I've found already in my brief time measuring spores, the average size ranges tend to vary from specimen to specimen, as well as from source to source. In this case the bottom end of the spore size range falls outside Kuo's estimated range, but falls squarely within the range of two other cited sources.

The general shape of the spores abides all sources however, and there are no totally abnormal deviations in size - so far so good.

But it was not the spores that drew my attention under the microscope - but these...uh...other things...

empty basidia 1.jpg

What the heck is that thing?

At first I thought it was a basidia with three sterigmata to disperse mature spores. Except I never found one that was loaded, and the scale relative to other structures seemed way off.

But the damned things were everywhere

empty basidia 2.jpg

Every other move of the slide revealed another three pronged tower rearing its head.

empty basidia 3.jpg

Without any idea what they were, I saved the photos and made a mental note of the structure.

A day passed and I began to run my analysis through some keys and eventually came to Pluteus cervinus by means of the macroscopic traits and spore print. I was sort of sure, but not 100% until, in almost every source, I saw the same three horned microscopic tower I'd identified under the microscope!

It turns out these horned towers, called Cheilocystidia - apparently sterile cell growths protruding from the gills - are the definibg microscopic trait for this species! It is the horns or "antlers" on these microscopic towers from which the species derives its names, cervinus - cervus is latin for deer - or the "Deer Mushroom".

Most exciting of all is that I found this structure without knowing what to look for! It may seem a small thing, but that is a major diagnostic milestone!

Finally, for thoroughness sake, here is a photo of what I believe is a full three pronged basidia, which is much smaller than the antlered towers.

3 pronged basidia full.jpg

I only found one structure that looked like this.

Although it seems to fit the bill for the basidia, in truth I don't know that it is. This is where the limitations of my skill and lack and tools reveal themselves. The only reason the Cheilocystidia were as forthcoming is because of their abnormal size. In order to capture the basidia with regularity, I will need to get better at proper mounting and, eventually, buy some stain.

For now, I'm just reveling in another major practical advancement. This was a case where I found an unidentified mushroom, microscopically analyzed it without any knowledge of what to look for, and then made observations which turned out to be dispositive in the mushroom's identification. That means, imperfections aside, my microscopy works, and I couldn't be happier.


Cap = In this case shades of brown with some subtle streaking in the surface - covered in a few small fibers here and there - multiple sources indicate it begins convex before flattening out. Mine was already flat when found and then became slightly upturned around the edges, with the gills more fanned out, after being left for a spore print. Detritus stuck to the cap indicates it was once sticky, but it was dry to the touch when I found it. Size ranges from 4 to 10 cms, with mine in the middle around 5cm. Kuo indicates a slightly wider variation of color is also possible, but mostpictures depict shades of brown.

Spore surface = Gilled, white or whitish when young - free from the stem - then as the spores begin to be released turning light pink. May get even darker with time to flesh color, but I did not see that.

Flesh = white, not bruising or changing color when damaged.

Stem ("stipe") = Mostly white, with some brown coloration or fibers on it - sometimes small hints of spores collecting on it as well. Not hollow and roughly even. Some indications it can grow down right long - 13cm? - but mine was fairly diminutive at 4 to 5 cm long and curved up from the side of a log.

Spore Print = Others estimate a color from pink to dark pink - I'm going to say orangish brown with a distinctintly pinkish overtone. I'm beginning to see how the descriptive rabbit hole gets dug.

Ecology ("How it grows.") = Saprobic, on hardwoods - possobly also on conifers but less normal. Never terrestrial nor on woodchips, which might indicate a technically distinct species. Spring into at least fall - but I found this on a wintery November morning this year.

Distribution = Definite common on the East Coast of the US, but also seems reported from thw west coast as well.

KOH reactivity = I saw no reaction on cap - spores browning in KOH


Spores = Ellipsoid, or like a slightly smooshed circle. Mine went from 4-6microns x 5-7 microns

Other = Derives its name and nickname from the three horned Cheilocystidia which pop up all over the gills microscopically. There may be a wider and deeper variation of species than originally thought - check out Kuo's site for details.


Photos Are My Own - Except: [Photo 1 - I accidentally deleted the photo of the mushroom I found in the wild - mine was alone, but in the same growing position and with same colors as this photo]photo taken by Eric Steinert at Freising, Germany Cc-by-sa-2.5,2.0,1.0 via Wikimedia commons

Microscopic photos were taken using an AMScope M150B entry level microscope. If you use microscopes, I'm quite sure you've never heard of this model - but its cheap and available on Amazon. The camera lens is also AMScope, MD35 - by far their crappiest microscope camera. But, as we will confirm on Thursday, still capable of material, relevant, and in some cases, dispositive, data collection. Lastly it should be noted that the precise magnifications are not easily deduced using the camera - but based on relative spore sizes compared to known microscopic photos from Kuo and other sources, I estimate 40, 100 and 400x.

Information Sources [1]Kuo, M. (2015, June). Pluteus cervinus. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com [2]Mykoweb's Michael Wood and Fred Stevens on P.cervinus [3]Tom Volk on P.cervinus [4]Gary Emberger, Messiah College on P.cervinus [5]Wikipedia on P.cervinus [6]First Nature on P.cervinus

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