#124: Galerina marginata, the Deadly Galerina
If you are collecting for the table, this is one little brown mushroom (LBM) that you should definitely be familiar with. Most LBMs go unnoticed because they are heard to spot and are usually too small to consider worth eating. The “Deadly Galerina” is therefore usually not dangerous on its own. The real danger from this mushroom comes when it is accidentally collected along with a group of edible mushrooms. Galerina marginata contains amatoxins, which are also found in such infamous species as Destroying Angels (Amanita virosa complex, FFF#050) and Death Caps (Amanita phalloides, FFF#051). In England, G. marginata goes by the beautifully ominous name, “Funeral Bell.” Unfortunately for me, people in the United States prefer the much blander common name, “Deadly Galerina.”
G. marginata is a little brown mushroom that grows on wood. Since LBMs are often difficult to tell apart, NEVER EAT ANY LBM GROWING ON WOOD! Apparently there is an Italian rule of thumb that states that no poisonous mushrooms grow on wood. Certainly the Deadly Galerina disproves that rule!
If you are interested in wild honey mushrooms or enokitake, then you should definitely learn some of the physical details of the Deadly Galerina:
- Its cap is 1-4cm (0.51.5in) wide, brown to yellow-brown to tan, and convex to flat (and sometimes bell-shaped). The pileus does not have any decorations but is slimy when wet. You may notice that the margin is lighter than the center of the cap and slightly lined. These features are pointed out in the species name, G. marginata.
- Underneath the cap, the gills meet the central stipe at about a 90° angle but may run down the stipe just a bit. The gills are yellowish when young but become brown with the maturing spores.
- G. marginata features a stipe that is roughly the same width all the way down, is slightly hairy on its lower ¾ or so, and a faint ring zone that sometimes disappears. The ring is the remnants of a white partial veil (a thin membrane that protects the young gills), which collapses to leave a fragile, cottony zone on the stipe. This feature is one of the most helpful physical features of the Deadly Galerina. In older specimens, the ring zone catches some of the falling spores to become rusty brown. All the edible mushrooms with which G. marginata may be confused have a white spore print. Checking the color of the ring zone in older mushrooms is an easy way to figure out what color the spore print is. Therefore, if your mushroom has a brown ring zone, DO NOT EAT IT!
The Deadly Galerina can be found all across the northern hemisphere’s temperate zone. Europe, Asia, and North America are all home to this deadly mushroom. It appears to be less common in Europe, which might explain how the Italian rule of thumb has lasted so long. As mentioned previously, G. marginata grows from decaying wood. Unlike most wood decay fungi, the Deadly Galerina can be found decomposing both hardwood and conifer logs. They usually grow in clusters and often have curved stipes as a result. G. marginata is most frequently found in the fall, but can also appear in all other seasons. Since its habitat and season do not help eliminate it as a suspect, you must always be vigilant when collecting brownish mushrooms from wood.
Most cases of G. marginata poisoning are accidents. Little brown mushrooms are usually overlooked by mushroom collectors because many are mildly poisonous and generally not appetizing. The majority of people who accidently consume the Deadly Galerina unknowingly pick it up while collecting known edibles. Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria spp.), Enokitake or the Velvet Foot Mushroom (Flammulina velutipes), and Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybe spp.) are the mushrooms most commonly confused with the Deadly Galerina. Both of these species can be found on decaying wood, which is also the habitat of G. marginata. As a result, you should closely examine every single fruiting body you collect for the table.
The easiest way to differentiate the edible species is by their spore print. Armillaria and Flammulina both have a white spore print while Psilocybe has a purplish brown spore print. If you check the spore print for every single mushroom you collect, you shouldn’t have any problems. This, however, is often not practical. At the very least, make sure to verify that every mushroom shares the same morphological characteristics and then take the spore print of at least one mushroom from each morphologically distinct group.
G. marginata produces the same type of toxins as do deadly Amanita species. These toxins, amatoxins, are dangerous because they do not produce symptoms for 6-24 hours. Because of this delayed onset of symptoms, the sufferer may not realize that the mushrooms they ate earlier are the culprits. Initial symptoms resemble food poisoning. The symptoms gradually worsen until the third day, where there is a short remission. If someone who went to the hospital for their symptoms without knowing that mushrooms were the culprit, they may think they are cured and return home at this point. Unfortunately, the symptoms return the next day. After a week or so, the liver and then kidneys fail. This will ultimately result in death if a liver transplant is not performed. A drug called Silibinin, which is derived from the Milk Thistle, has shown promise in treating amatoxin poisoning if it is administered fairly quickly. For more information on amatoxins, see FFF#091. The ratio of each type of amatoxin in G. marginata appears to vary widely (unlike the ratios in Amanita species). Apparently, this depends upon the substrate and environmental conditions. Despite this variation, all G. marginata species are equally deadly.
Recently, a number of Galerina species were found to be genetically identical. In a reversal of normal trends in mycology, DNA evidence showed that – despite differences in morphology – the five Galerina species found in Europe and North America belong to the same genetic species, G. marginata. As a result, many North American field guides still list G. marginata as G. autumnalis. The Deadly Galerina is placed in the phylum Basidiomycota, class Agaricomycetes, order Agaricales, and family Strophariaceae.