Cortinarius caperatus (Pers.) Fr. - The Gypsy

Phylum: Basidiomycota - Class: Agaricomycetes - Order: Agaricales - Family: Cortinariaceae

Cortinarius caperatus, Gypsy Mushroom

Cortinarius caperatus is a beautiful and conspicuous woodland mushroom, but it is not typical of the Cortinarius genus and could easily be mistaken for an Agaricus mushroom..

Distribution

The Gypsy Mushroom is very rare in most parts of Britain and Ireland; it is only an occasional find in northern Scotland but is also reported to occur in the New Forest (where, over many years of fungus foraying we have never seen it).

We found the rather fine specimens pictured above in the Caledonian Forest on cenytal Scotland. The pair of young Gypsies shown below were hiding in a mixed conifer forest near Lake Vänern, the largest lake in Sweden (at about half the size of Wales!), where The Gypsy is quite a common sight; even so it seems that the local fungus forayers are very wary of all Cortinarius mushrooms, because we noted that collectors were diligently shunning these large, fleshy fungi.

Cortinarius caperatus is a more frequent find in Scandinavian conifer forests, as it is also in parts of North America and in some northern countries of Asia.

Cortinarius caperatus, Gypsy Mushroom

Taxonomic history

When Christiaan Hendrik Persoon first described this gilled mushroom, in 1796, he named it Agaricus caperatus. (The generic name Agaricus was given to most gilled fungi in those days, but species other than the so-called 'true mushrooms' have since been moved to new genera.) It was the great Swedish mycologist Elias Magnus Fries who, in 1838, transferred The Gypsy from Agaricus to Cortinarius. Other Cortinarius mushrooms have web-like partial veils that leave at most just a few fine threads clinging to the stem, creating a rusty 'ring zone' when they catch spores that fall from the gills. Pier Andrea Saccardo (1834-1917) recognised this distinction as significant and transferred The Gypsy to the genus Pholiota, and then in 1879 Finnish mycologist Petter Adolf Karsten named it as Rozites caperata, that genus being established in honour of French mycologist Ernst Roze (1833-1900), and it was by this name that The Gypsy Mushroom was known until very recently. Many field guides currently in print and some major online mycological resources still refer to this species as Rozites caperata.

In 2002, DNA sequencing by Peintner, Horak, Moser and Vilgalys determined that the hitherto separate genera Rozites, Cuphocybe and Rapacea are all simply taxonomic synonyms of Cortinarius, and so The Gypsy regained the scientific name that Elias Fries had given it more than 160 years earlier.

Synonyms of Cortinarius caperatus include Agaricus caperatus Pers., Rozites caperata (Pers.) P. Karst., Pholiota caperata (Pers.) Sacc., Dryophila caperata (Pers.) Quel., and Togaria caperata (Pers.) W.G. Sm.

Etymology

This mushroom is something of an oddball, and as its many synonyms suggest there has been much debate and disagreement about its correct siting in the taxonomic system. 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 fibres connecting the stem to the rim of the cap; however, Cortinarius caperatus is an exception and has a membranous partial veil.

The specific epithet caperatus comes from the Latin adjective for 'wrinkled' - a reference to the wrinkled or furrowed surface of most mature caps of this fungus. Equally intriguing is common name The Gypsy, which has long been associated with this attractive and prized edible mushroom, but if there ever was one then any reason for this name has long since been lost in the mists of time.

Culinary Notes

A prized edible in countries where it occurs in numbers, The Gypsy is not gregarious. In Britain it is very rare and usually appears only in very small scattered groups or as singletons. In those countries where it is not a rare species, this mushroom is sometimes collected to add to a meal of more plentiful edible woodland fungi such as Chanterelles or Ceps.

Identification guide

Young cap of Cortinarius caperatus

Cap

At first domed and closed by a substantial fleshy membranous ring (as shown on the left), the cap becomes convex and eventually flattens with a broad umbo. Yellowish buff or brownish ochre with a paler margin, the dry cap surface is covered in pale fibres and often develops fine wrinkles when fully expanded.

Cap diameter ranges from 7 to 14cm at maturity.

Gills and stem ring of Cortinarius caperatus

Gills

The crowded gills are adnexed to the stem. Initially a pale clay colour, the gills darken gradually as the spores mature and eventually become mid brown or cinnamon. Because the spores may not all ripen together, sometimes the gills develop dark patches reminiscent of some members of the genus Pholiota.

Stem base of Cortinarius caperatus

Stem

The stipe or stem of Cortinarius caperatus, which is typically 6-12 cm long and 1-2 cm in diameter over most of its length, is slightly swollen at the base. The stem surface is white or very pale buff, as is the stem ring which is initially attached to the rim cap so concealing the young gills. The ring, which is persistent, is positioned just above the mid point of the stem.

Fine white longitudinal fibres give the upper part of the stem a matt surface, while much larger fibres near the base create an even more shaggy appearance.

 

Spores

Ellipsoidal, 10-15 x 7-10µm; surface moderately verrucose.

Spore print

Rusty brown to ochre brown.

Odour/taste

Odour not distinctive; taste mild.

Habitat & Ecological role

Cortinarius caperatus, the Gypsy Mushroom, is ectomycorrhizal with conifers and with Beech trees as well as with certain ericaceous plants (heath, heather, bilberry etc).

Season

August to November in Britain.

Reference Sources

Fascinated by Fungi, Pat O'Reilly 2016.

Funga Nordica, Henning Knudsen and Jan Vesterholt, 2008.

Dictionary of the Fungi; Paul M. Kirk, Paul F. Cannon, David W. Minter and J. A. Stalpers; CABI, 2008

Taxonomic history and synonym information on these pages is drawn from many sources but in particular from the British Mycological Society's GB Checklist of Fungi and (for basidiomycetes) on Kew's Checklist of the British & Irish Basidiomycota.

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