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The genus Lactarius comprises a large number

of fleshy mushrooms (about 100 species on the

Iberian Peninsula). These mushrooms establish
ectomycorrhiza, have brittle flesh and contain a
latex which varies in colour and changes in
contact with air.

Figure 1. When the flesh of a fresh fruitbody of Lactarius
cut, a milky fluid (latex) exudes from it. This liquid can be trans-
parent, white, yellow, red, etc.

The main visual features for identifying species
within this genus are (OReilly, 2011):
The presence or absence of pits in the
stem or cap.
Furrows on the cap margins.
Cap can be zonated.
Cap surface is matt, oily or velvety.
Presence of hairs on the rim.
Colour of the latex and its changes when
exposed to air or dried.

Within this genus, a group of species have red-
dish or orange milk and are linked with conifers
(pines, firs). Often, this milky fluid takes on
greenish tints in contact with the air. This
group of species, within the genus Lactarius,
forms the section called Dapetes (Basso,
1999). All are edible.
Figure 2: 1: L. quieticolor, 2: L. deliciosus, 3: L. sanguifluus, 4:
L. vinosus
Figure 3: L. semisanguifluus showing the change from orange to

Very famous mushrooms
Identification key for Dapetes (Basso, 1999)
This key corresponds to the species which grow in the eastern centre of the Iberian Pen-
insula. In the fir forests of the Pyrenees, its easy to find Lactarius salmonicolor.

1a. Initially orange coloured latex. Clear zonate cap (subsect. Deliciosini).........2
1b. Initially red or purple. Cap may be zonate (subsect.Sanguifluini)..4

2a. Latex (and cuts) remain orange..3
2b. After 5-10 minutes, latex, cuts and bruises become reddish. Normally found
in mountain pine forest over limestone. Lactarius semisanguifluus

3a. Orange cap. Found in pine forests in general, mainly over acid or decarbonated
soils... Lactarius deliciosus
3b. Greenish-brownish cap. In wet meadows located in mountain pine forests. Uncom-
mon (Sierra de Albarracn, Montes Universales)..Lactarius quieticolor

4a. Red or purple latex........5
4b. Bluish latex, at least in the cap. Bluish stem. Found beneath Cistus, in Mediterranean
shrublands.....Lactarius cyanopus

5a. Cap not zonate. Slightly greenish. Latex and bruises are reddish. Mediterranean
mushroom in pine forests with a tendency toward chalky soils..Lactarius sanguifluus
5b. Cap clearly zonate. Intense green. Latex and bruises purple. In this zone, with a ten-
dency to grow in unchalky soils (always in pine forests)......Lactarius vinosus

The Spanish names for Saffron Milk Caps
Being so popular, these mushrooms receive a
lot of different common names from several
different ethymological roots:
Linked with nscalo and mzcalo (these two
words accepted by DRAE): guscano
(Albacete, Jan y Murcia), mizclo (Cuenca,
Guadalajara, Puebla de Don Fadrique),
ncalo (Segovia), miscle, etc.
Linked with robelln (DRAE): rebolln
Pebrazos: in the Ayora valley.
In Catalan; pinatell, esclata-sang

Often, the common Spanish name is linked to
its ecology, for example:
Meadow saffron milk cap is Mizclo de prao
(Cuenca): L. quieticolor.
Guscano negral (Albacete) is linked with pino
negral (Pinus pinaster): L. deliciosus.
Guscano carrasqueo (Albacete) is associated
with pino carrasco (Pinus halepensis): L. san-
However, in the Cuenca mountain range, peo-
ple call L. sanguifluus mizclo negral or de buje
because in this area the pino negral (Pinus ni-
gra subsp. salzmannii) grows over limestone
(called also negral land) while L. deliciosus is
known as mizclo de rodeno, due its relationship
with pino rodeno (Pinus pinaster in Cuenca).
Or the name may also be linked to the colour of
the latex, as in the drunk saffron milk cap,
mizclo borracho (Cuenca) or guscano borracho
(Albacete): L. vinosus.


Male saffron milk cap
From time to time, people find saffron milk
caps parasited by a special fungus, Hypomyces
lateritius. This fungus eliminates the gills of the
parasited mushroom and changes the texture
of the flesh, which becomes stronger. These
mushrooms continue to be edible. In some re-
gions, such as Catalonia, these parasited milk
caps are highly appreciated, naming them mare
del rovell (saffron milk cap mother). In Eas-
tern Spain, these are called male saffron milk
caps and are taken as a sign for a good mush-
room season.
Figure 4: L. sanguifluus parasited by Hypomyces lateritius (male
saffron milk cap)

The Lactarius in the Dapetes section are linked
with pine forests and specially with plantations
and young forests, more fruitful than the older

The association between saffron milk caps and Rus-
sula spp., specially the red and purple species (for
example, Russula sanguinaria or R. torulosa) is very
well known. Hence, if Russula spp can be found in a
forest, there will also be saffron milk cap, whereas if
there are no Russula spp., its not worth looking for
the milk caps.
Some nurseries produce pine seedlings inoculated
with the mycelium of Lactarius sect. Dapetes, so
you can plant these pines and have mushrooms in a
few years.

Possible misunderstandings
The species closest to the Dapetes are Lactarius
from other sections, which could have a similar ap-
pearance (specially when the cap surface is seen
from above), with similar zonate caps. Nevertheless,
these fake saffron milk caps dont have orange or
reddish milk. Their latex is whitish or yellowish and
is usually associated with oaks. These are not poiso-
nous mushrooms, but they do have quite unplea-
sant flavours (bitter, spicy or acrid) which ruin the
taste of prepared dishes.

Figure 5. Some species of Lactarius are linked with pines and
others with oaks.
Traditional uses
In Mediterranean countries these mushrooms have
been popular as edible mushrooms throughout the
ages, even appearing in Roman frescos as an Au-
tumn image.

Figure 6: Comparison of L. vinosus, L. deliciosus and L. chrysorr-
heus, this last one exudes white latex which turns yellow after a
few minutes.

The gathering time is autumn, with variations de-
pending on weather and location. In the coldest pla-
ces in the Iberian mountains, it is possible to find
them as early as September, while October is nor-
mally the season in the Cuenca mountains. In the
Betic Range of Albacete, harvest season is normally
November. The last places to pick saffron milk cap
in Spain are usually the Sierra Morena and the Me-
diterranean coast. Also, its possible to find them
during rainy springs, but not with the same quality
and quantity as in the normal season.
In Spain, the market of saffron milk caps represents
millions of euros a year.


Figure 7: Roasted saffron milk caps.
Ingredients in traditional cuisine
People eat saffron milk caps in many different ways
in Spain: roasted, in stews, rice, casseroles, or
mixed with fried tomato, scrambled eggs, potatoes,
Formerly, people in the villages preserved them in
clay pots filled with olive oil, using the same oil to
then fry them. Nowadays they are preserved in
freezers, in bain-marie, vinegar, brine, etc.
(Fajardo et al, 2003).
Saffron milk cap gathering is a
traditional and popular activity
in Mediterranean countries.
These mushrooms are part of lo-
cal cuisine and part of the tradi-
tional knowledge linked with na-
ture and its resources.

Basso, M. T. 1999. Lactarius Pers. Fungi Euro-
paei 7. Ed. Candusso.
Fajardo, J., Blanco, D. and Verde, A. 2003. El
gnero Lactarius en la provincia de Albace-
te. Sabuco 4: 5-33.
OReilly, P. 2011. Fascinated by Fungi. Ed.
First Nature.

Texts: Alonso Verde and Jos Fajardo
Pictures & drawings: Jos Fajardo
Design: Miguel R. Brotons