Russula grata Britzelm. - Bitter Almond Brittlegill

Russula grata - Bitter Almond Brittlegill

Phylum: Basidiomycota - Class: Agaricomycetes - Order: Russulales - Family: Russulaceae

Russula grata is an untidy fungus, often damaged before it emerges from the forest floor. Crushing the gills between your fingers will release a strong bitter almonds odour that helps to verify the identity of this species.

Distribution

This is widespread and fairly common in Britain and Ireland as well as in other European countries. There are reports of Russula grata occurring in North America, most commonly in the north east.

Russula grata - Bitter Almond Brittlegill

It is hard to find a perfect specimen of this fairly common woodland mushroom, because slugs are attracted to it - perhaps by the strong odour of bitter almonds.

Taxonomic history

The Bitter Almond Brittlegill was described in 1893 by German mycologist Max Britzelmayr (1939 - 1909), who established its currently-accepted scientific name Russula grata.

Synonyms of Russula grata include Russula laurocerasi Melzer, and Russula subfoetens var. grata (Britzelm.) Romagn.

This brittlegill is included in many current field guides as Russula laurocerasi, the name given to it in 1921 by Czech mycologist Václav Melzer (1878 - 1968), the creator of Melzer's reagent which is used to stain certain parts of white fungi.

Etymology

Russula, the generic name, means red or reddish, and indeed many of the brittlegills have red caps (but many more are not, and several of those that are usually red can also occur in a range of other colours!). The specific epithet grata means welcome (just as persona non grata means a person who is not welcome).

Identification guide

Cap of Russula grata

Cap

5 to 9cm in diameter and more or less flat or slightly depressed in the centre when fully developed, the caps are spherical only when very young.

Honey brown and rather blotchy, the cap surface is viscid and develops intense radial ridges and warty bumps as it ages.

Gills of Russula grata

Gills

The narrow, adnexed gills are moderately close together; they are very brittle. Initially cream, the gills darken with age and develop rust spots.

Stem

15 to 35mm in diameter and 4 to 8cm tall, the brittle stems are white and solid, developing internal cavities as they age.

Spores of Russula grata

Spores

Globose, 8-9.5 x 8-8.5µm; uniquely ornamented with warts and protruding wings, sometimes branching; the warts and ridges are up to 2µm tall.

Spore print

Pale to mid cream.

Odour/taste

Strong odour of bitter almonds (some say rather like marzipan); taste can be either mild or quite hot.

Habitat & Ecological role

Coniferous and broadleaf woodland. In common with other members of the Russulaceae, Russula grata is an ectomycorrhizal mushroom.

Season

July to November in Britain and Ireland.

Similar species

Russula fragrantissima has much the same macroscopic appearance and strong almond fragrance but its spores do not have the distinctive wings associated with Russula grata.

Russula illota, a rare species in Britain, and considered by some authorities as a subspecies of Russula grata, is very similar in appearance, habitat and season. Only experts can tell the two apart without resorting to microscopic examination.

Russula foetens is typically somewhat larger and has an unpleasant smell.

Culinary Notes

Despite having one of the most attractive odours of all fungi (at least, to anyone who is fond of almonds and marzipan!), this is an inedible mushroom.

Reference Sources

Pat O'Reilly (2016). Fascinated by Fungi, First Nature Publishing

Geoffrey Kibby (2011).The Genus Russula in Great Britain, published by G Kibby.

Roberto Galli (1996). Le Russule. Edinatura, Milan.

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

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.

Other web authorities on this species

Roger Phillips (UK) - under synonym Russula laurocerasi

Michael Kuo (USA) - under synonym Russula laurocerasi

Russulales News (Italy) - under synonym Russula laurocerasi

Marek Snowarski (Poland) - under synonym Russula laurocerasi

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