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Timebomb Toadstool – The Brown Roll-Rim

The words ‘Mushroom’ and ‘Toadstool’ are not truly scientific names, but general common usage describes these as edible or inedible (and poisonous) fungi respectively. But there is a grey area, (internationally speaking) regarding this mushroom or should I say toadstool?. It is still sold in eastern Europe markets, where-as here at home in the UK, it is strongly advised to be avoided. Over time, this fiendish toadstool can release it’s toxins and seriously poison you…

Brown roll-rimThe Brown Roll-Rim (Paxillus involutus) is a very common toadstool found throughout the UK and Europe. I have come across it many times in mixed woodland. If picked for eating it can lose it’s toxicity once thoroughly cooked, but over time and if eaten on a regular basis, it’s toxin will enter the bloodstream and systematically cause the destruction of the red blood cells. Not very pleasant and definitely not worth the risk. There’s no real timescale for when and if this will happen, but I think it’s best described as a ticking time-bomb!

The common name helps describe this naughty toadstool quite well. Naturally a brown toadstool, it’s rim remains ‘inrolled’ although less so when expanded as it grows – see picture on the left – excuse long fingernails!). The texture when younger is finely felted and later becomes smooth (slimy when wet).

Size-wise, it can grow from 5 – 15cm in diametre when fully mature and has a distinct hazel brown colour (tawny brown / olive when younger), often dotted with darker orange/brown blotches and the margin may become very wavy.

The crowded, decurrent gills are a reliable feature for identification also. They ‘bruise’ dark brown on handling are easily separated from the cap flesh.

Being very common in broad leaved and sometimes coniferous woodland (even parks and gardens), you will most likely stumble across these toadstools during late summer to late autumn. They have been classed as deadly poisonous and therefore, to repeat myself again, just avoid them. Several deaths have been reported from Europe. Better the devil you know – to coin a phrase!

Note: See comments boxes below. To eat or not to eat! I know I won’t be eating them!

Paxillus involutus

The Brown Roll-Rim Toadstool – Viscid when wet and brusing dark brown on the gills (top). Younger examples are more finely felted when young before becoming smoother.

PS. If you want to get scientific – check out this eco-news on the study of this very mushroom (and related species): http://www.jgi.doe.gov/sequencing/why/99182.html

QUICK ID TABLE: BROWN ROLL-RIM Paxillus involutus

CAP / FLESH

5-15cm across. Inrolled margin. Ochre – hazel-brown colour (often with darker rain post marks). Downy texture when younger, becoming smoother. Slimy when wet.

STEM

8cm x 0.8-1.2cm. Similar but lighter colour as cap. Stains darker with age.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Crowded and decurrent. Light ochre to sienna. Bruises darker.
Spore Print: Sienna brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In broadleaved woodland and on heaths. Late summer – late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Poisonous. Can be deadly. Regular consumption build up toxins within the body. Avoid.

Common in a crowd – The Sulphur Tuft toadstool

There’s a extremely good chance of you finding a large group of Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasiculare) at just about anytime of the year (especially from April to December). These beauties are extremely common in the UK and populate all types of woods and forests.

Sulphur Tuft Toadstool/MushroomThey are Saprotrophs (feeding off decaying matter) and appear in small tufts or large groups on dead/rotting wood (deciduous or coniferous), tree stumps or underground buried decaying wood or roots. The Hypholoma group of fungi like these are commonly known as ‘Brownie’.

When found in great numbers they are indeed a great sight to behold. When in their prime, the convex cap has an amazing bright sulphur-yellow colour with darker orange tones towards the centre. Remnants of the pale yellow veil (initially covering the gills) can be found at the edge (margin). The stem, which is often curved, share a similar yellow-brown colour (sometimes greenish) though dirty brown towards the base with a fibrous appearance. The gills , when younger, appear green-yellow which act as a good indicator in identification.

They almost look good enough to eat (and do have that ‘mushroomy’ smell), but unfortunately are not edible and will most likely give you stomach ache, vomiting and similar gastrointestinal symptoms. But the almost identical Conifer Tuft (Hypholoma capnodes) on the other hand – is edible – but less common throughout the year. As the name suggests, this species only grows in coniferous woods, in fact only always found on rotting tree stumps.

There is a ‘taste test’ you can make to identify between the two. Simply taste a small sample from the cap, making sure you don’t swallow! If it is bitter in taste, it is a Sulphur Tuft but if it is mild, then it is a Conifer Tuft.

Please note that you shouldn’t try this taste test with other mushrooms or toadstools you find (unless you know exactly what you’re dealing with. ie. Russula or Lactarius) as nasty results can come from tasting unknown species!

And if you do find some Conifer Tuft, I’ve heard they’re best steamed or used in a soup. I have no idea what they taste like!

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasiculare)

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasiculare). Note the slight yellow green of the gills which age to an olive colour, and then finally to dark brown.

Hypholoma fasiculare

Sulphur Tuft – Grouped clusters on a fallen log and a group of young/small specimens.

Toadstool ID Chart - Sulphur Tuft

The Genus HYPHOLOMA (Brownies): Characteristics to look out for:

• Often yellow/orangy brown caps.
• Dark brown spore print.

Fairytale Fungus – The Fly Agaric

It’s always nice to come across one of the most loved of all toadstools. I’m of course talking of the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria). Most probably you will recall first seeing them depicted in your favourite childhood nursery rhyme or fairytale (or even in a so called ‘Mario’ video game).

Amanita muscaria ToadstoolIt was interesting to discover that they were traditionally used as a fly killer by the people of Slovenia (also England and Sweden). Chopped up flesh chunks were placed in saucers of milk or water, which would then release psychoactive compounds, deadly to any fly or bug foolish enough to take the bait. Some consider this story debatable, but one thing for sure is that the iconic and cultural history of this famous toadstool go back a long way, having deep routes in religion, spirituality, and of course recreational use!

This mushroom is in the same genus as the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) but A.muscaria has a different make-up and is rarely fatal (many would have to be consumed). It is not, as some people think, The Magic Mushroom which most people have heard of. The actual Magic Mushroom or Liberty Cap is actually a Psilocybe species called Psilocybe semilanceata. Nevertheless, the Fly Agaric is indeed a famously noted and powerful hallucinogenic.

I’ve never felt the urge to experiment (either for culinary or recreational interest) as they do cause sickness, and in some cases produce some very alarming symptoms. However, there are some places in Europe where they still eat them, only after careful preparation (parboiling etc). Hmm! I’m still not sure.

The Fly Agaric contains a compound called ‘Muscarine’, which is one of the poisons found in other mushrooms from the Inocybe and Clitocybe genus, although they are in very small quantities here, hence the minimal reports of serious poisoning and/or deaths.

There are many active chemical compounds in the mushroom, but the main psychoactive agent is called muscimol. Its effect on the brain excites neural transmitters causing the hallucinogenic effects, which are very unpredictable and will differ from person to person.

But simply eating this mushroom out right rarely has the effect some people actually want. Yet somehow, somewhere, someone discovered how to get the results they were after – and that was to drink urine! That is, the urine of someone willing to consume the mushrooms in the first place. The psychoactive elements pass through into the urine, while all the other bad elements are all filtered out by the body. All you have to do then is take a drink! There would be minimal or no bad side effects and all the desired good effects – well, hopefully. Several cultures (past and present) have used this practice as a form of religious ritual, recreation and/or spiritually as an entheogen – meaning ‘generating the divine within’.

Whatever your stance is on the ‘use’ of this mushroom, there’s no doubt it is one of natures most interesting and beautiful species. And if you do find some this autumn (or late summer) be sure to look out for any Ceps (Boletus edulis) hanging around nearby – they sometimes will be growing in the same vicinity. Good luck.

Amanita muscaria Images

The Fly Agaric’s Red cap with white spots (veil remnants). Bottom: Notice that over time from weathering/rain etc. the cap can fade in colour and the white veil remnants can be washed off, as shown here.

Amanita muscaria

Two young Fly Agarics covered with remnants of the white veil.

Note: Bear in mind that extremely young examples of this mushroom growing up from the soil can appear like small white puffballs. There was a case of someone eating what they thought was a puffball, and experienced mild hallucinations but suffered no ill effect, just a bit of a scare!

QUICK ID TABLE: FLY AGARIC Amanita muscaria

CAP / FLESH

10-20cm across. Red with white ‘spotted’ veil remnants on the surface; these can wash off with rain and the colour fade to orange-red. Mature cap edge is grooved.

STEM

15-20cm x 1.5-2cm. With a grooved ring. Bulbous base with volva that has rings and scales.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

White and free.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Woodland, mostly with birch; also pine and spruce. Late summer – early winter.

EDIBILITY

Poisonous, causing sickness. Containing hallucinogens.

The Genus AMANITA (Amanitas): Characteristics to look out for:

• All have some sort of Volva – a cup-like/sack-like structure at the base of the stem which is the remnant of the universal veil.
• When very young, while still in the universal veil they can look egg-like.
• Most species are often covered with ‘spotted’ veil remnants. These sometimes ‘wash off’.
• Most species have white/whitish gills.
• Be extra careful in identification (examining volva and stem ring if present) as this genus contain some deadly species.