Bolete Mushrooms in BC

Common edible bolete mushrooms in British Columbia & Vancouver Island

Boletes are a large group of mushrooms characterised by having a spongy pore-covered surface below the cap instead of gills. 

Bolete mushrooms in British Columbia are less varied than other countries, but they still grow in abundance with many edible species to choose from. They are also relatively safe, since there are some simple tests that allow one to avoid toxic varieties. The real trick is finding them before the bugs do. 

Below are some bolete species that I find most often in British Columbia. 

Boletes in British Columbia

The common term "bolete" refers to a wide range of capped mushrooms with a spongy, pore-covered surface instead of gills. This does not include shelf or tree-growing mushrooms that don't have stems. 

The name "bolete" derives from the order Boletales, which includes a number of gilled mushrooms. So, technically, there are gilled mushrooms that are also boletes. However, here we will be going with the common non-technical usage described above. 

Also, most of what we consider "boletes" were once within the genus "Boletus" (literally "mushroom" in Latin), but subsequent analysis has slowly divided many species off into separate genera. Some common genera that contain boletes are Boletus, Aureoboletus, Leccinum, and Suillus

Most boletes grow from the forest floor and they can appear in large enough numbers to make for a good meal. Also, since boletes form mycorrhizal relationships with various host trees, they will consistently appear in the same place year after year, as long as their host trees are present.

Are there poisonous boletes? 

There are some boletes which are toxic, and a few that are potentially deadly. However, in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia these are exceedingly rare. 

The biggest risk from eating boletes is gastric upset, probably due to the slimy covering which develops on the caps of some species. As such, it is recommended that you either peel the caps of any bolete you plan to eat, or dry them thoroughly. For cooking or drying, most people skip the spongy spore-producing part of the cap because of its mushy texture and tendency to hide small bugs. However, this part can be used to flavor stock if you strain it out. 

As for toxic or poisonous boletes, avoid any species with orange to red pores (the spongy area under the cap) and those which rapidly stain blue when cut or bruised. Some edible varieties also stain blue, but usually quite slowly. 

Some boletes are considered inedible simply because they taste bad. To check, you can nibble on a small pea-sized piece of a bolete to check for taste. If it is bitter, or otherwise tastes bad, then don't eat the rest. 

With that out of the way, here are some common bolete species that are edible... 

Fat Jack - Suillus caerulescens

Another common name for the fat jack is "Douglas fir slippery jack" indicating the strong association this mushroom has with Douglas fir trees. 

Fat jacks are very common in the fall.  Look for a pale brown streaky cap, lemon yellow pores, light veil when young, and brown spores. Fat jacks also have a slight bluing reaction when bruised, but can also bruise  brown.  

Avoid cooking and eating the cap surfaces. Either peel it away or dry the mushroom completely first.  Most also recommend removing the spongy pore layer with a spoon as well. 

Three fat jack bolete mushrooms showing cap, stipe and pores
The cap of matte jack bolete mushroom showing red brown scaly surface

Above: The cap of a matte jack bolete mushroom. Image source

Matte Jack - Suillus lakei

Also known as the western painted Suillus, this is another fall-growing, Douglas fir-associated bolete.

The cap has a distinctive red-brown and finely-scaled appearance (see left). Pores are angular and elongated towards the cap margin.

Again, similar to the fat jack, the matte jack has brown spores and a faint veil remnant beneath the cap.

Despite the textured brown appearance, these mushrooms definitely stand out on the late-fall forest floor, often growing in small groups of 2-3 specimens each. Matte jack's are associated with the also-edible rosy gomphidius mushroom (Gomphidius subroseus). 

The "tamarack jack" - Suillus ampliporus - is similar but has a hollow lower stem and associates with larch trees instead of Douglas fir. 

Three matte jack bolete mushrooms, two uprooted to show underside of cap

Above: Three matte jack mushrooms showing the undersides

matte jack mushrooms growing next to rosy gomphidius mushrooms

Above: Matte jack mushrooms next to two rosy gomphidius mushrooms

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Admirable Bolete - Aureoboletus mirabilis

This mushroom is relatively unique among the boletes in that they grow on dead tree stumps and logs. 

The cap is a reddish-brown, with a firm layer that often develops pale spots. The texture of this cap lends itself to one of the admirable bolete's other names: the velvet top bolete.

The pore layer is yellow, and the stipe is a streaky fibrous reddish-brown. 

Another name for this mushroom is "bragger's bolete". They're also quite similar to the mushroom below...

A admirable bolete mushroom growing from a mossy log
The cap of a small zeller's bolete mushroom
A hand holding up a very small zeller's bolete mushroom with a black cap and red stipe

Zeller's Bolete - Boletus zelleri

A very distinctive and beautiful mushroom, the Zeller's bolete has a dark brown to black cap with a hard rugged surface and pale stripe around the margin. The stipe is a streaky red - quite bright when young - and the pore surface is a pale yellow. Sometimes with a mild blue-staining reaction. 

Zeller's boletes typically appear in low-lying conifer forests in the fall. 

Zeller's boletes are sometimes classified as Xerocomellus zelleri.

Zeller's bolete look alikes

A possible look alike for Zeller's bolete is either Boletus chrysenteron or Boletus truncatus (which are very similar to each other). Boletus chrysenteron tends to have a stronger bluing reaction, a less consistently red stipe, and a lighter-coloured cap.

There is also the recently discovered Xerocomellus atropurpureus, with a smoother, more reddish-purple cap.  

Slippery Jack - Suillus luteus

The "true" Slippery Jack is not native to British Columbia, but was imported with tree species used for landscaping, like some ornamental pines.

As such, it is more common in urban and landscaped areas, so care should be taken when harvesting (especially if you suspect that gardening chemicals may have been used in the area). I should also note that I have found these mushrooms side by side with death caps - so be careful not to pick up any of those by mistake. 

They are usually a bit slimy, but when dry they resemble pretzel buns on the ground (see right).

Again, make sure to peel off the top layer before cooking. 

Below you can see the mostly intact veil and pore surface of a young slippery jack.

The underside of a young slippery jack bolete mushroom showing veil and pore surface
four slippery jack bolete mushrooms growing in a group on the ground
Porcini or penny bun mushroom

Porcini  - Boletus edulis

Perhaps the most famous of the boletes, this mushroom goes by many names, including king bolete, cep, porcini, or penny bun. 

In British Columbia, these mushrooms are hard to find below a certain altitude and are almost always bug-ridden once they break the ground. As such, it is best to find them when they're young and still underneath the moss layer. 

Tree associations include pine and "true" fir trees like the grand fir (not Douglas fir). 

Important features include a net-like structure on the surface of the stipe, a toasty brown cap like freshly baked bread, and no bluing reaction.  

Other edible boletes in British Columbia

There are a number of other edible species which I will gradually add to this list as I learn more about them.

If you go looking for, or find, the birch bolete (Leccinum scabrum), be wary. There have been some concerns raised about possible toxicity. 

Questions About Boletes

Are blue staining bolete edible?

Some edible boletes also stain blue. However, this isn't an exclusive association, so other features should be used to identify edible boletes. However, in general, boletes which turn dark blue quickly should be avoided, as most blue-staining edible boletes turn blue only slowly.