Galerina marginata

Jan 30, 2023

Good evening, friends,
This week’s mushroom is the ever-ominous Funeral Bell (Galerina marginata, formerly Galerina autumnalis). I’m tapping into the fall archive as I found this mushroom several times up in Manitou from September through November. If you’re going to learn to identify any LBM (little brown mushroom), this is certainly the one you want to know because if you eat it, it will kill you. Eating Galerinas – not even once. An added reason to know this mushroom is because it looks similar to some mushrooms you may actually want to eat – like psychoactive Psilocybe species and honey mushrooms (Armillaria). It’s understood that there are several genetically distinct but physically identical mushrooms that comprise the species Galerina marginata, creating a “species complex”, so we’ll look at the traits that are consistent across the complex.

Fun Facts
No sense in skirting around it, this mushroom contains several kinds of amatoxins, many of which are also found in other toxic mushrooms. I’m always interested in the mechanisms through which these toxins kill you and these specifically will shut down your liver. The toxins are absorbed in the intestine, transported to the liver, and upon arrival they prevent liver cells from undergoing RNA polymerase. This means the cells can no longer replicate their DNA to perform cell division (we’re talking mitosis, folks, can you rack your memory for that science lesson?) so the cells die. The first symptoms are nausea and gastrointestinal distress which then culminate in liver & kidney failure. The good news is that most cases are remedied with intensive care and only 5% of amatoxin poisonings “in developed countries with early access to intensive care” result in death (Reference 7).

One fascinating aspect about liver cells is that some replicate as frequently as every 21.5 hours (this was found in rats, but it appears to extrapolate to humans as well) while other cells live for up to a decade. At any given time approximately 10% of the cells in the liver are in the process of dividing/replicating. The average human liver, whether you’re 20 years old or 80, will be just under 3 years old since the cells regenerate so frequently (References 3 & 4). The 21 hour turnover might be why the effects of amatoxin poisoning typically aren’t evident until 24 hours after ingestion, another sinister side effect. The rule of thumb with mushroom poisonings is that if you get sick immediately after ingestion, you won’t die, but the lethal poisonings aren’t evident until 12-24 hours after consumption.

I went down a bit of rabbit hole and found that the liver’s powerful regenerative capabilities have been known to humans for thousands of years. In Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from his fellow Titans to give to us pesky humans – it goes without saying but he did us a huge solid. However, for this transgression Zeus bound him to a rock and had an eagle eat his liver. The liver would regrow each night only to be eaten by the eagle the next day. A perfect closed-loop purgatorial system. I won’t spoil the ending but he does manage to escape…

Galerina has a disarmingly cute etymology and translates to “small helmet” (Galer- means ‘helmet’ and the suffix -ina conveys the small size). Marginata means “margin” or “edge” and probably relates to the partial veil that attaches to the margin of the cap – more on that in a sec.

G. marginata is saprobic and obtains it’s nutrients by decomposing both deciduous trees and conifers. It grows in temperate forests acorss the northern hemisphere, typically in the fall (denoted by the former species name Autumnalis). You can find a single, solitary mushroom, but it’s much more likely that they’ll pop up in clusters.

As previously mentioned, the most conspicuous trait of this mushroom is the partial veil that leaves an annulus (ring around the stipe). The annulus is initially white but quickly turns brown due to the brown spores released from the gills landing on the sticky membrane. As with all mushroom traits, there are always exceptions to the rule and sometimes the annulus deteriorates so it’s not present at all. The photo below shows the exact stage where the partial veil breaks away from the cap and the gills begin to release spores.

Contrast the mushroom above with the specimen below and you’ll see the variation in the color of the annulus depending on the mushroom’s age. The gills undergo a similar color transformation where they start yellow but then discolor brown as well. Additionally, notice the size difference between the two mushrooms. The specimen below is definitely at the larger end of the size spectrum, but it shows the variability in size as the mushroom ages. The caps are also hygrophanous and begin to discolor with age (best seen in the first picture).

On February 1st, everyone’s favorite comet – Comet c/2022 e3 ZTF – will be the closest to earth since it’s last fly by roughly 50,000 years ago. It will be brightest that evening, but it should be visible to the naked eye tonight and tomorrow. At 9pm tonight it should be to the right of the north star, but that also applies for Tuesday. I just went outside to check and it’s cloudy so that’s not really helpful. Regardless, you have to imagine the comet will be pretty surprised to see all that has taken place since it’s last fly by.

Take care,

1) Kuo, M. (2016, July). Galerina marginata. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site:
3) POST J, HUANG CY, HOFFMAN J. The replication time and pattern of the liver cell in the growing rat. J Cell Biol. 1963 Jul;18(1):1-12. doi: 10.1083/jcb.18.1.1. PMID: 13985675; PMCID: PMC2106283.
7) Enjalbert F, Cassanas G, Rapior S, Renault C, Chaumont JP. Amatoxins in wood-rotting Galerina marginata. Mycologia. 2004 Jul-Aug;96(4):720-9. doi: 10.1080/15572536.2005.11832920. PMID: 21148893.