Candy Cap: Lactarius rubidus
Cap 1.5-4.5 cm broad, convex with a slightly inrolled margin when young, becoming nearly plane, occasionally with a small umbo but more typically with a depressed disc, the margin wavy and sometimes upturned in age; surface smooth to faintly furrowed, rusty-brown, azonate; flesh thin, brittle, pale buff-brown, unchanging, bleeding a watery latex when cut; taste mild; odor faintly of brown sugar or butterscotch.
Gills subdecurrent, moderately broad, close, pale pinkish-brown, darker in age, exuding a watery latex when injured.
Stipe 2-5 cm tall, 0.4-1.0 cm thick, equal to tapered to slightly narrowed base, sometimes twisted, brittle, hollow at maturity; surface, smooth, lined at the apex from gill edges, colored as the cap.
Spores 6.5-7.5 µm, nearly round, with amyloid reticulate ornamentation; spore print cream-buff.
Solitary to scattered in mixed hardwood/conifer woods; in humus, moss, rotting wood, along trails, and road banks; fruiting from mid to late winter.
Edible and good; often used in breads and confections, but one of us (MW) believes it is better used in savory dishes. See Comments below for caution regarding look-alikes.
This species has been known as Lactarius fragalis var. rubidus. Dr. Andy Methven has proposed the promotion of the variety to species rank and the mushroom is now known as Lactarius rubidus.
Lactarius rubidus is characterized by a rusty-brown, usually depressed cap, subdecurrent, pinkish buff gills that bleed a watery latex, and a smooth, brittle stipe colored like the cap. Fresh specimens have a faint, sweet odor, but when dried smell strongly of butterscotch, thus the common name "candy cap". Hesler and Smith, in their monograph of the genus noted that 64 year old herbarium material of Lactarius fragilis var. fragilis still retained the sweet, butterscotch odor! Several other "candy cap" look-alikes, not all edible, occur in our area, thus caution is advised when collecting for the table. Lactarius rufulus is an edible, larger version of the "candy cap". It has a watery latex, but does not have the strong butterscotch odor when dried. Microscopically it also differs in lacking clumps of thin-walled round cells in its cap and stipe tissue. Lactarius rufus, L. xanthogalactus, L. luculentus and L. subviscidus are reddish colored species all of which have a white latex, at least when initially exposed, and vary in acridness.