Orange Birch Bolete and Brown Birch Bolete – Identification, Edibility, Distribution

Leccinum versipelle (OBB), Leccinum scabrum (BBB)

(also very similar: orange oak bolete (Leccinum aurantiacum) and orange aspen bolete (leccinum insigne) – distinguished by habitat.

Rather roughly trimmed orange birch boletes

Rather roughly trimmed orange birch boletes

  • Edibility – 4/5 – OBB – Young firm specimens great in any mushroom dish, large, spongier specimens best dried. Stems can become tough and hard to digest in older specimens – in which case add to the stock pot. BBB- 2/5 (or 3/5 if really young and firm) – usually best dried and mixed with other dried fungi and used as thickener/umami in stock pots
  • Identification – 4/5 – OBB –  Its hard to mistake these impressive fungi, with their orange caps, pale stems with dark scales (squamules) , grey pores and tendency to turn blue around the stem base when cut or handled. Don’t be alarmed by this – treat it as a welcome aid to identification rather than something scary (see picture at bottom of page).  BBB is more or less identical, only with drab brown caps of various hues depending on how young/wet it is, and an inclination to bruise grey rather than blue. There are a number of similar leccinum (scaber stalk) species, all of which share the more or less squamulous stipe. Identification to species is based on habitat (i.e. tree type they are found under), cap colour and colour changes (blue, red, dark bruising) on cut stems. None are known to be toxic or inedible, but some are harder do digest than others. See notes on a couple more below, and consult a field guide for the full range.
  • Distribution – OBB – 3/5 – Not uncommon in their habitat, though far less common than BBB (5/5), which are often hyper abundant under birch.
  • Habitat – Under birch trees and no other, August – November. If you find an orange capped mushroom that looks very similar growing under oak or aspen, you probably have an orange oak bolete (Leccinum aurantiacum – edible and excellent) or orange aspen bolete (leccinum insigne – edible but with some reports of adverse reactions).
Brown Birch Bolete

Brown Birch Bolete – very common indeed under birch

While not quite in the same class as ceps, orange birch boletes far exceed their more common brethren, the brown birch bolete (leccinum scabrum), in texture and flavour. Look for somewhat phallic younger specimens only under birch trees (especially scrub birch and birch wood edges), particularly on acidic, scrubby/heathery ground. They can grow to substantial sizes, but once they start to feel spongy its best to dry them for future use. Drying results in an improved flavour on reconstitution.

orang birch bolete

Orange birch boletes can get pretty big.

If you come across an OBB (to its friends) that isn’t growing beneath birch, but under oak trees, you may well have an OOB – orange oak bolete. Word is, these are even tastier, but never having found one, I can’t comment. They seem to be more common in the South of England. We don’t get many aspens in Scotland, but on a trip to NW Canada I encountered a lot and found lots of orange aspen boletes below them. Orange aspen boletes have been reported to cause adverse reactions in a few people – my advice would be to eat only the young caps, well cooked. I really enjoyed them.

IMG_6988

Orange aspen boletes on moose antlers

None of the scaber-stalk (leccinum) sub-family of boletes (pored mushrooms) will do you much harm, though many aren’t particularly rewarding eating. I get countless pictures of BBB’s sent to me by people thinking they have found ceps. They are nowhere near as good, though young, firm specimens are well worth picking, and often reward a forage in huge numbers when not much else is about.

Orange birch bolete

Orange birch bolete

I’m told that in some areas of Eastern Europe the OBB is esteemed above the cep. This is hard to justify purely on taste grounds, but they are certainly more rewarding picking, being much more resistant to maggots.

View more edible mushrooms on the edible fungi guide

Orange Birch Boletes, Lake District

Orange Birch Boletes, Lake District

5 Comments

  • Josh giles says:

    Hi I picked some brown birch boletes and have had a go at drying them in the oven at 100°c turning them every 10 mins interestingly the older larger specimens which I had less hope for kept their colour much better after drying although they were much harder to put through the mandolin..the younger ones have all gone really grey where the white once was it this acceptable?can send photos if you like…a response would be most welcome!

    • mark says:

      Hi Josh, Discolouration while drying is normal with these species. The stipes of older specimens can get quite tough and harder to digest – drying and powdering is the way to go.
      Mark

  • David says:

    Found some beautiful orange birch bols in Perthshire this week – dont normally see the orange ones in good condition – cooked the stems only as caps quite softish; however had very bad diahorea 12 hours later , which I am putting down to the mushrooms. Luckily didnt give to my elderly parents with the tea.
    Just a cautionary note – I am well experienced in mushrooms otherwise – maybe best to go gently with these ones to see if agree with oneself, before going in head first. David, West Lothian.

    • Mark Williams says:

      Hi David,
      Sorry to hear you didn’t get on.
      Good advice: Eating anything for the first time, but especially fungi, is a step into the unknown. Eating a small amount, well cooked, is always the way to go initially. Personally I remove the tough stipes of older specimens as they just look tough to digest. Drying is the best way to go with soft caps. There are a range of orange leccinum, mostly distinguished by habitat. Some are more easy to digest than others.
      Cheers,
      Mark

  • Ela says:

    Hello Mark 🙂
    Just want to say thank you for all of the interesting information and pictures.
    P.S. A little off top; I do wish I had someone (near me) so I can be somewhat assured about the mushrooms I see that may be potentially edible 🙂
    I am confused about Boletes. I saw few beautiful specimens with nice reddish-orange caps and “scaly trunks”. I cut gently one off and it bruised right away at the cut.
    I don’t expect an answer from you. LOL
    I just have a hard time distinguishing pictures from real looking mushrooms.
    I am taking your advice: If not sure, leave it alone 🙂
    Thanks again.

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