Laccaria laccata: The Deceiver Identification, Edibility & Look alikes

Laccaria laccata, also referred to as The Deceiver, is a mushroom species native to North America and Europe that can be found abundantly across various deciduous and coniferous woodlands. Unfortunately, as its common name suggests, this little mushroom appears in a bewildering array of variant forms, making it very difficult and frustrating for inexperienced mushroom hunters to confidently recognize in the wild. Nevertheless, this species is typically characterized by an orangish-pinkish-brown, sunken cap, and thick, waxy, pale pink to flesh-colored gills that descend down its fibrous stem, at the base of which is a white mycelium.[i]

The woodland mushroom was initially described by Austrian mycologist Giovanni Antonio Scopoli in 1772. As this species was gilled, Scopoli grouped it with most other gilled mushrooms of the time under the extensive Agaricus grouping, naming it Agaricus laccatus. It wasn’t until 1884 that the British mycologist Mordecai Cubitt Cooke reclassified this species into its current genus, and the specific epithet was changed to laccata. [ii]

The etymology of this species name is an excellent example of nomenclative tautology. In Latin, the generic name Laccaria translated to “lacquer”, while the specific epithet “Laccata” translates to “lacquer coated”. It’s almost as if the mycologists naming this mushroom wanted to make sure their point was received.

It is worth mentioning that the official name for Laccaria laccata is Laccaria laccata var. pallidifolia.

Identification and Description [iii] [iv] [v] [vi] [vii]

As mentioned, the size, color, and shape of this mushroom is vexingly variable. This makes it difficult for even veteran collectors to recognize some forms in the wild with certainty based solely on macro-morphologic features. As such, despite it being one of the more common species, mycophiles on the lookout for L. laccata should remember that the only way to accurately recognize this species is by using a microscope.

Cap: The cap of this species typically has a diameter ranging from 1 to 5 cm, although it can grow even larger. Initially, the cap is convex, but as it matures, it becomes broadly convex or even flat, often developing a central depression or sometimes a hole. The cap’s margin is smooth or wavy and tends to curl inward or upward (forming a funnel shape) and erode with age. The surface of the cap can be moist or dry, but never viscid/sticky, and it may be smooth or adorned with very fine, minute hairs. The cap is hygrophanous and changes color based on its moisture content:

  • During wet weather, the caps are dull orangish, brownish-cinnamon, deep reddish-tan, or pinkish-brown.
  • During dry weather, the caps fade, becoming shades of pale buff to ochre-white.

Flesh: The flesh of this species is thin, concolorous with the cap, and does not change color
Gills: L. laccata has broad, thick, widely spaced gills that are interspersed with shorter gills. These gills can either be adnate/broadly attached or slightly decurrent, running down the stalk to some extent. Characteristically waxy, the gills of this mushroom can color pale pinkish to flesh-colored or grayish pink. In older specimens, the gills become dusted with white or grayish mature spores.
Stem: The stem of Laccaria typically ranges from approximately 2 to 6 cm in height and 3 to 10 mm in width. It maintains a consistent cylindrical shape, although it may taper towards either the top or the base. The stem is fibrous, sturdy, and can exhibit a straight, bent, or twisted form. As the mushroom reaches maturity, the stem usually becomes hollow. Initially, the surface of the stem is smooth, but with age, it may develop fine fibrils, particularly towards the base. Some specimens may also display longitudinal grooves. The color of the stem often matches that of the cap or may appear darker, taking on a reddish-brown hue. Lastly, a white, downy mycelium is often present at the base of the stem, while no veil or ring is observed.
Spore: The spores of this species measure 7-10 by 6-9 mµ. They are round to nearly round, echinulate(spiny), and non-amyloid.
Spore Print: The spore print of this species is white.
Flavor and Edibility:  Laccaria laccata is considered edible, although it is not highly regarded due to its lack of flavor. However, caution is strongly advised before consuming this species, as there are several small mushrooms with brown caps and white spores that are poisonous. Laccaria laccata is also hard to identify, so misidentification is a big risk.
Smell: This species does not have a distinctive smell, but some mycological sources report a slight/mild fruity smell.
Habitat: L. laccata can be encountered growing either solitary, scattered, or clustered within leaf litter, moss beds, and diverse environments encompassing poor, boggy, and sandy soil. This adaptable species thrives across a wide array of plant communities. It has a mycorrhizal association with many numerous species of both broadleaf and coniferous trees, including pines, beeches, oaks, and birches.
Range: The geographic distribution of this species extends throughout North and Central America, as well as Europe. It is so abundant and widespread that it is often considered a “weed” mushroom due to its ubiquitous presence in various habitats.
Fruiting Season: Laccaria laccata fruits from late spring to fall, and even winter.

Look-A-likes [viii] [ix]

Identifying Laccaria laccata based solely on its macro-morphological features can be exceptionally challenging due to its high degree of variability in appearance. Complicating matters further, there are several species of small reddish-brown to orange-brown mushrooms that closely resemble Laccaria laccata, making it difficult to distinguish them based on macroscopic characteristics alone. As such, definite identification of Laccaria laccata almost always necessitates the examination of microscopic features in combination with a few distinctive macro-morphological and ecological traits.

Below are a few examples of species that may be confused with L. laccata:

  • Laccaria amethystina – Younger specimens of L. amethystina can easily be differentiated from L. laccata based on their distinct purplish or lavender caps and gills. However, as older specimens dry out and become pale buff they become very difficult to distinguishable from L. laccata. Mycophiles only hope is that despite fading the stalk and cap of L. laccata retain a purple tinge.
  • Laccaria bicolor – this species can be differentiated by its distinct two-toned stem, which has a lilac base and a tawny upper section. Additionally, bicolor has violet mycelium about the base of the stalk.
  • Laccaria proxima – this species has a scruffy/scaly cap and broadly elliptical/ellipsoidal spores which can be used to set it apart from L. laccata.
  • Laccaria tortilis – this is a tiny version of the deceiver that has a small contorted cap, a fewer number of gills counting 10-15, and larger spores.
  • Laccaria striatula – this species has a smaller, striate cap and prefers to grow in wet or boggy areas. Additionally, it has larger spores.


[i]      McKnight, K. H., & McKnight, V. B. (1998). Deceiver: Laccaria laccata. In A Field Guide to Mushrooms, North America (pp. 156-157). Houghton Mifflin.

[ii]      First Nature. Laccaria laccata (Scop.) Cooke – Deceiver.

[iii]     Lincoff, G. (1981). The Common Laccaria. In National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American mushrooms (pp. 762). Knopf.

[iv]     Hall, I. R., Stephenson, S. L., Buchanan, P. K., Yun, W., & Cole, A. L. J. (2003). Laccaria laccata (The Deceiver). In Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of the World, (pp. 147) Timber Press Inc.

[v]      Davis, R. M., Sommer, R., & Menge, J. A. (2012). Laccaria laccata. In Field Guide to Mushrooms of western North America, (pp. 136-137). University of California Press.

[vi]     Ehrlich, P., & Taylor, A. (2016) Laccaria laccata (The Deceiver).

[vii]    Kuo, M. (2010). Laccaria laccata.

[viii]    Wood, M. (2010). California Fungi – Laccaria laccata.

[ix]     D. Arora (1986)  Laccaria laccata (Lackluster laccata) In Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi,  (p. 172.) Ten Speed Press, Berkeley

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