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The Etymology of Stinky Mushroom Names

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

The below is very informative and quite interesting read. All new to me! Here's what you will find in this post:

  1. First we see an organized image that illustrates fungal smell descriptors. Very useful both in the field and when consulting an identification book.

  2. Second, below the image, we will learn about different smell-associated Latin roots that are evident in many mushrooms' scientific names.

  3. Finally, we have our source information at the end of the page.

"Odor Wheel"

Here is a list of odor-related root words used in mushroom names. The first three here are the most commonly used, followed by a series of entries for words that describe specific odors. These entries are from the book ‘A Mushroom Word Guides’ by RM Hallock. The odor wheel pictured here was originally published in Fungi (Vol 6 No 5, 2014) by Hallock & LaBreque and is slightly modified here. This odor wheel can be used when you are smelling a mushroom to help specify which odor you are smelling.

odor / odoratus (L): Fragrant. Clitocybe odora (oh DOR uh) and others with this epithet have a pronounced odor.

escens (L): Turning, changing, or becoming. Used in Amanita rubescens (roo BES cens), which turns reddish. In addition, Psilocybe azurescens stains blue, and Agaricus urinascens develps a urinous odor with age.

olens (L): Smelling. Used in suaveolens (sue ah veh OH lens). The suffic olens is used as a suffix to many odorous mushrooms. For example, Lactarius cocosiolens smells like coconut.

brassic (L): Cabbage. Gymnopus brassicolens (brass IC oh lens or bras sih CO lens) has the foul odor of rotting cabbage, although a few reports equate it to the smell of a dead animal. Brassica is the genus name of the cabbage.

agath (G): Pleasant. Used in Hygrophorus agathosmus (ah gath OHS mus), which has one of the most pleasant smelling odors of any mushroom I have smelled.

allium (L): Garlic. Used in Marasmius alliaceus (al lee AYE see us), which smells like garlic. Further, Allium is the genus of garlic.

camphor (Sanskrit): Camphor tree. Used in 60 species, including Cortinarius and Lactarius camphoratus (cam for AH tus), which have the odor of camphor. Medicinal VapoRub is 5% camphor, and moth balls are sometimes made of camphor.

cedr (G): Cedar. Used in Russula cedriolens (sed ree OH lens), which smells like cedar.

cimic (L): A bug. Epithets cimicarius and cimiciodorum both indicate that the mushroom smells like bugs. The epithet cimicifugatum, used in a number of plant species, indicates that the odor repels bugs.

coco (L): Coconut. Lactarius cocosiolens smells like coconuts, while Botryosphaeria cocogena is a parasite on the coconut leaves. The epithet cocoicola indicates growth on coconut trees, but I do wonder what soft drink the authors of those species were drinking.

cossus (L): A larvae, specifically the goat-moth. Hygrophorus cossus was named after the odor of the goat-moth. The odor of the mushroom is variably described in books as ‘fragrant’, ‘odd and non-mushroomy’, and ‘like a caterpillar’. I haven't had the pleasure of smelling this one, but look forward to it. I wouldn’t mind finding a goat-moth either.

gangren (L): A rotting of flesh, gangrenous. Calocybe gangraenosa (gan grae NOS uh) was named after its foetid odor.

graveolens (L): Strong-smelling. Used in Russula graveolens (grav eh OH lens), which has a pronounced odor.

in (L): Without. A common prefix used in many mushroom names. For examle, it is used in the species Cortinarius and Myochromella inolens (in OH lens) to indicate that they lack an odor. This is the same prefix used in inflammable, inexpensive, and insane. Note that same prefix also means ‘in’, or ‘within’ in other cases.

malus (L): Bad. Used in Melanoleuca malodora (mal oh DOR uh), which has a bad odor, and Agaricus malangelus, which was originally described from Angel Fire, New Mexico, and is called the ‘bad angel’. Related words include malaria, malfunction, malady, malice, and malpractice to name a few.

narcot (G): Numbness, stupor. Coprinopsis narcotica (nar CAH tic uh) smells like opium. Rogers mushrooms didn’t seem to associate the smell with opium, as theeir website describe the odor as “non-mushroomy” and “odd”. Having no clue what opium smells like myself, perhaps someone more knowledgeable can let me know.

olid (L): Odorous, stinking. Used in Armillaria and Hygrophoropsis olida (oh LIE duh), two odorous mushrooms. H. olida smells just like root beer.

orichalc (L/G): Literally ‘mountain copper’, it refers to a yellow metal, or a yellowish copper or brass color. Cortinarius orichalceus (or ih CAL see us) is yellowish, and Cortinarius orichalceolens becomes that color. Related is the epithet chalciporus, which has copper-colored pores.

pisc (L): Fish. Lactifluus and Tylopilus pisciodorus smell like fish. Exophiala pisciphila is a fungus that grows on fish. The zodiac symbol of ‘pisces’ is fish, and a ‘pescatarian’ eats fish.

pungen (L): Pungent. Used in Russula pungens (PUN gens), Entoloma pungens, Suillus pungens, and Lactarius pungens, all of which are malodorous.

putid (L): Rotten, fetid. Phellodon putidus (PEW tid us) and Russula putida are malodorous.

prun (L): A plum. Clitopilus prunulus (PRUN you lus) is resembles a little plum tree with a white bloom covering it. Other species include Boletus prunicolor, pruniformis, and pruniodora which refer to a mushroom’s color, shape, and odor.

pyr (L): Pear. Used in Lycoperdon pyriforme (pier ih FOR meh). Inocybe pyriodora smells like a pear, while Lycoperdon pyriforme is shaped like a pear.

quietus (L): Mild, quiet, calm. Used in Lactarius quietus (KWHY eh tus), an apparent reference to the drab coloring of the pileus. Inocybe quietiodor smells like Inocybe quietus.

rancid (L): Stinking, rancid. Clitocybe and Tephrocybe rancida are malodorous

redolens (L): Redolent, fragrant. Used in Russula redolens (red OH lens), which has a pronounced odor. Redolent means strongly reminiscent of something, but also means fragrant or sweet-smelling.

sacchar (G): Sugar. Used in Exidia saccharina (sac car EE nuh), which is sweet. Hebeloma sacchariolens has a sweet odor (-lens). In related words, saccharin is an artificial sweetener.

sapon (L): Soap. Used in Tricholoma saponaceum (sah poe NAY cee um). Tricholoma saponaceum had a definite, albeit mild, soapy odor.

scord, scorodon (G): Garlic. Used in Marasmius scordonius (scor oh DONE ee us). Marasmius scorodonius is one of several Marasmius species that smell like garlic.

solan (L): A potato, or any plant in the nightshade family. Amanita solaniolens (so lan ee OH lens) smells like a potato. Solanales is a taxonomic Order of the nightshades, while Solanum is the genus of potatoes.

sordescens (L): Becoming dirty, vile. Used in Auricularia sordescens (sord ES cens). Although I do not have experience with it, Auricularia sordescens must become dirty/vile with age. Also, Tylopilus sordidus has a vile odor. In related terminology, the word sordid means filthy or foul (try to use that in a sentence today).

suav (L): Sweet, agreeable. Used as the epithet suaveolens (sue ah veh OH lens), in both Hydnellum suaveolens and Inocybe suaveolens. The ending –olens means smelly. Thus, these two species have a pleasant odor. I used to throw the Hydnellum suaveolens I found in my car because it acted as an air freshener - and they even lasted a couple of months."


The text included in this post was shared by Rob Hallock to a Facebook group titled "Mycological Word of the Day" on January 17th, 2019. The photo, below, is mine.

"Red Cage Stinkhorn"

(Clathrus ruber)

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