What You Should Know
Russula sardonia is a mushroom of the genus Russula, which is commonly known as brittlegills. The fruiting body, or mushroom, is a reddish-purple, the color of blackberry juice, and is found in coniferous woodland in summer and autumn. These brittlegills have primrose gills that turn golden yellow with age. The specimens shown on the left have emerged in wet weather and already slugs have taken chunks out of their caps.
This mushroom is inedible and has a 'pepper hot' taste. Many similar-tasting Russulas are poisonous when eaten raw. The symptoms are mainly gastrointestinal: diarrhea, vomiting, and colicky abdominal cramps. The active agent has not been identified but is thought to be sesquiterpenes, which have been isolated from this species and the related genus Lactarius.
Other names: Primrose Brittlegill.
Russula sardonia Mushroom Identification
5 to 10 cm across; convex, flattening and developing a central depression; hardly peeling at all; usually reddish-purple with a darker purple (sometimes almost black) center, but sometimes with violet, green (form viridis), or grey tints; fading with age. Occasionally found with lemon to ochre-yellow cap (form mellina).
Adnexed or very slightly decurrent; pale lemon to primrose yellow at first, becoming golden yellow and finally browning at the edges. When a cap develops a central depression at maturity, the gills sometimes tear away from the stem.
White at the base, the stem of Russula sardonia is flushed lilac to wine-red above; cylindrical or tapering slightly at base; 5 to 8cm long, 1.0 to 1.6cm dia.
Ovoid; 7–9 x 5.8–8µm; with warts up to 0.6µm tall, joined to form a partial reticulum (network) via a combination of ridges and fine connective lines.
Odor and Taste
Fruity odor; very hot taste - so hot that I think you are unlikely to want to try taste testing red- or purple-stemmed brittlegills except as a last resort!
Habitat & Ecological Role
In coniferous woodland, particularly under pines. In common with other members of the Russulaceae, Russula sardonia is an ectomycorrhizal mushroom.
Russula sardonia Look-Alikes
Grows in the same habitat, and is said to smell strongly of 'raw apple'. It has no ammonia reaction.
The Purple Brittlegill, has a white stem.
Also lives with conifers Picea (spruce), and smells like apples.
Russula sardonia Taxonomy and Etymology
The Primrose Brittlegill was given its current scientific name Russula sardonia in 1838 by the great Swedish mycologist Elias Magnus Fries.
Russula sardonia has many synonyms including Russula sardonia var. citrina Pers., Russula drimeia Cooke, Russula chrysodacryon Singer, Russula sardonia var. mellina Melzer, Russula chrysodacryon f. viridis Singer, Russula drimeia var. flavovirens Rea, Russula emeticiformis Murrill, and Russula drimeia f. viridis (Singer) Bon.
Russula, the generic name, means red or reddish, and indeed many of the brittlegills have red caps.
The specific epithet sardonia comes from Greek and means bitter or acrid - a reference to the hot peppery taste of this mushroom.
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