Beautiful Brittlegills

There are many brightly coloured species of fungi in Yarner Woods. These are all Russulas, to use their scientific name, or Brittlegills to use their English name. Russula means red, which some of them are, but they can be green, yellow or purple and all shades in-between.

Russulas - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

There may be 750 species worldwide, but it’s impossible to tell until scientists have done full DNA analysis of them. Scientists obsess over exactly which shade of ochre the cap is, whether the taste is mild or moderately acrid, and exactly how easy the cap is to peel. All of these features could be environmental and not genetically inherited. And ones which look identical? They could be genetically very distinct. 

Many Russulas can concentrate metals like zinc, lead and mercury from the soil into high concentrations. Some happen to produce poisons. All of them are fascinating, and have been for centuries:

Russulas - The Hall of Einar

Here’s one of my favourite Russulas, the poisonous Russula emetica, known as The Sickener:

Here it is from the 19th Century, in Illustrations of British mycology, containing figures and descriptions of the funguses of interest and novelty indigenous to Britain by Anna Maria Hussey:

Russula emetica - The Hall of Einar

They all live in association with specific species of trees. What strange lives they lead.

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