Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Russula mushrooms -- © Dave Spier

Russula mushrooms at Wilmington Notch in early October -- © Dave Spier

For a change of pace, here’s an attractive but potentially poisonous mushroom from earlier this month. It’s one of the Russula’s, a genus with a handful of species, several of which have red caps. I’m pretty sure it’s Russula emetica, a poisonous species. A check of the gills underneath shows that they are attached to the stalk, not free [attached only to the cap and not the stem at the inner gill edge]. To give you some idea of the difficulty in identifying mushrooms, I first referred to Mushrooms of Ontario* which lists emetica as having "nearly free" gills. That would have made it more likely they’re Russula paludosa, a slightly larger species with supposedly attached [adnate] gills according to the book. Next I checked Peterson’s Mushrooms** which describes emetica gills as "adnate (broadly attached to stalk apex)."

As for cap size, the ones I found are in the overlap zone, about three inches across (although I didn’t have a ruler with me).

Alan Bessette, in his book Mushrooms of the Adirondacks,*** lists 13 species of Russula’s, at least of them five of them red, orange-red or wine-red in color. As with many similar-looking groups of mushrooms, a microscope and spore guide are needed for accurate identification. Since edible and poisonous mushrooms can be near look-alikes, it’s best to avoid eating most wild mushrooms.

In the Audubon Pocket Guide,**** the Russula emetica (identical to the ones I photographed) is listed as the "Sickener" with a "hot, acrid taste." Other guides describe it as bitter to sharp pepper. Sorry, I did not taste the Russula's in Wilmington Notch.

The habitat is listed as conifers or mixed woods (a good match to the Wilmington Notch location), but several books also mention bogs and sphagnum moss (common in bogs).

Corrections and comments may be sent to northeastnaturalist@yahoo.com

*Mushrooms of Ontario and Eastern Canada, Lone Pine Publishing, © 1999 George Barron
**Mushrooms, Peterson Field Guides, Houghton Mifflin, © 1987 by Kent & Vera McKnight
***Mushrooms of the Adirondacks, North Country Books, Utica, © 1988 by Alan Bessette
****Familiar Mushrooms North America, The Audubon Society Pocket Guides, Alfred A. Knopf, © 1990

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