What You Should Know
Cortinarius caperatus is an edible mushroom of the genus Cortinarius found in northern regions of Europe and North America. It was known as Rozites caperata for many years before genetic studies revealed that it belonged to the genus Cortinarius.
The fruit bodies appear in autumn in coniferous and beech woods as well as heathlands in late summer and autumn. The ochre-colored cap is up to 10 cm (4 in) across and has a fibrous surface.
The clay-colored gills are attached to the stipe under the cap, and the stipe is whitish with a whitish ring. The flesh has a mild smell and flavor.
Other names: Gypsy Mushroom.
Cortinarius caperatus Mushroom Identification
Mycorrhizal with conifers, hardwoods, and bushes in the blueberry family; growing alone or, more often, gregariously; summer and fall; widely distributed in northern and eastern North America.
5-15 cm; convex, becoming broadly convex, flat, or somewhat bell-shaped; dry; usually wrinkled; when young with a grayish to whitish, Kleenex-like coating of fibers, especially over the center; pale yellowish at first, but soon yellowish-brown, often with a pale margin.
Attached to the stem; close; pale at first, becoming brown or cinnamon brown; the faces sometimes somewhat mottled or striped; covered by a white partial veil when young.
5-13 cm long; 1-2.5 cm thick at the apex; equal or slightly swollen at the base; dry; usually rough or shaggy near the apex; whitish or pale tan; with a thick white ring at the midsection; sometimes with a whitish covering near the base.
Whitish, grayish, or pale lilac.
Spores 10-15 x 7-10 µ; ellipsoid or nearly amygdaliform; moderately verrucose. Cheilo- and pleurocystidia absent. Pileipellis a cutis.
Cortinarius caperatus Taxonomy
When Christiaan Hendrik Persoon first described this gilled mushroom, in 1796, he named it Agaricus caperatus. It was the great Swedish mycologist Elias Magnus Fries who, in 1838, transferred The Gypsy from Agaricus to Cortinarius.
Other Cortinarius mushrooms have web-like partial veils that leave at most just a few fine threads clinging to the stem, creating a rusty 'ring zone' when they catch spores that fall from the gills. Pier Andrea Saccardo (1834-1917) recognized this distinction as significant and transferred The Gypsy to the genus Pholiota, and then in 1879 Finnish mycologist, Petter Adolf Karsten named it as Rozites caperata, that genus being established in honor of French mycologist Ernst Roze (1833-1900), and it was by this name that The Gypsy Mushroom was known until very recently. Many field guides currently in print and some major online mycological resources still refer to this species as Rozites caperata.
In 2002, DNA sequencing by Peintner, Horak, Moser and Vilgalys determined that the hitherto separate genera Rozites, Cuphocybe and Rapacea are all simply taxonomic synonyms of Cortinarius, and so The Gypsy regained the scientific name that Elias Fries had given it more than 160 years earlier.
Synonyms of Cortinarius caperatus include Agaricus caperatus Pers., Rozites caperata (Pers.) P. Karst., Pholiota caperata (Pers.) Sacc., Dryophila caperata (Pers.) Quel., and Togaria caperata (Pers.) W.G. Sm.
Cortinarius caperatus Etymology
This mushroom is something of an oddball, and as its many synonyms suggest there has been much debate and disagreement about its correct siting in the taxonomic system. The generic name Cortinarius is a reference to the partial veil or cortina (meaning a curtain) that covers the gills when caps are immature. In the genus Cortinarius most species produce partial veils in the form of a fine web of radial fibers connecting the stem to the rim of the cap; however, Cortinarius caperatus is an exception and has a membranous partial veil.
The specific epithet caperatus comes from the Latin adjective for 'wrinkled' - a reference to the wrinkled or furrowed surface of most mature caps of this fungus. Equally intriguing is the common name The Gypsy, which has long been associated with this attractive and prized edible mushroom, but if there ever was one then any reason for this name has long since been lost in the mists of time.
Cortinarius caperatus Radioactivity
The popularity of C. caperatus across Europe has led to safety concerns related to its propensity to accumulate contaminants. Fungi are very efficient at absorbing radioactive isotopes of caesium from the soil and naturally have trace amounts of the element. Caesium may take the place of potassium, which exists in high concentrations in mushrooms.
C. caperatus bioaccumulates radioactive caesium 137Cs—a product of nuclear testing—much more than many other mushroom species. Levels dramatically rose after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. This is a potential health issue as picking and eating wild mushrooms is a popular pastime in central and eastern Europe.
Elevated 137Cs levels were also found in ruminants that eat mushrooms in Scandinavia in the 1990s. Mushrooms from Reggio Emilia in Italy were found to have raised levels of 134Cs. C. caperatus from various sites across Poland has also been found to contain increased levels of mercury.
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