What You Should Know
Cortinarius rubellus is a species of fungus in the family Cortinariaceae, native to Europe and North America. Within the genus, it belongs to a group known as the Orellani, all of which are highly toxic - eating them results in kidney failure, which is often irreversible. The mushroom is generally tan to brown all over.
Rarely found in the south of England and Wales but becoming increasingly more common as you go further north, this mushroom is very common in Scandinavia and other countries on the mainland of northern Europe.
Similar species Cortinarius limonius, also poisonous, has more vivid orange coloring. Cortinarius orellanus has a less conical cap and grows near deciduous trees.
Other names: Deadly Webcap.
Cortinarius rubellus Mushroom Identification
The tawny-brown to orange cap is at first convex, flattening at maturity but retaining a slight or sometimes pronounced umbo (usually sharper than the umbo that sometimes occurs on the cap of Cortinarius orellanus); its surface is dry and slightly scaly.
Cap diameter is typically 4 to 8 cm when fully expanded, and the margin is often slightly rolled down even in fully mature specimens.
The gills, which are covered by a cortina (a cobweb-like veil) in young specimens, are pale yellowish at first, becoming rusty brown as the spores mature.
Often slightly bowed rather than straight, the stem is usually somewhat paler than the cap and usually retains fibres from the cortina, mottled with red; it is fibrous and tapers in slightly towards the base. Stems are typically 7 to 15mm in diameter and 5 to 10 cm tall and usually bear a distinctive yellowish snakekin-like pattern.
Cortinarius rubellus Toxicity
The danger of Cortinarius rubellus was first recognized in 1972 in Finland, where four cases of poisoning had occurred, two of which resulted in permanent kidney failure. In 1979, three people holidaying in the north of Scotland were poisoned, after mistaking it for the chanterelle.
Two of the three required kidney transplants. Twenty-two people were poisoned between 1979 and 1993 in Sweden, nine of which required a kidney transplant following end stage renal failure (ESRF). Among the edible species they mistook the mushroom for were Craterellus tubaeformis and Hygrophorus species as well as chanterelles.
Craterellus tubaeformis can be distinguished by its funnel-shaped cap and ridges on the cap's underside rather than gills. In 1996, one person in Austria ate it while looking for magic mushrooms.
Nicholas Evans, author of The Horse Whisperer, his wife Charlotte Gordon Cumming, and two other relatives were accidentally poisoned in September 2008 after consuming deadly webcaps that they gathered on holiday. Evans had assumed they were ceps but overlooked that the mushrooms had gills rather than pores.
All four victims were informed that they would require kidney transplants in the future. Several years later, Evans received a kidney donated by his daughter, Lauren. The other three eventually received transplants after some searching for donors, despite Charlotte having only eaten three mouthfuls of mushroom; they were instrumental in setting up the charity Give a Kidney.
Cortinarius rubellus Taxonomy and Etymology
Cortinarius rubellus was described and named by Mordecai Cooke in 1887.
Synonyms of Cortinarius rubellus include Cortinarius speciosissimus Kühner & Romagn, and Cortinarius orellanoides Rob. Henry.
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 rather than a solid membrane.
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