(Member of the Fungus Conservation Trust - Registered Charity No. 1118651)

2. Russula betularum - frustration without reason

The species under scrutiny here has caused me untold frustration despite it seems being a relatively easy fungus to identify (or so I suspect). You see I always adopt a careful approach (like one should) to identifying fungi but when it comes to Russulas I believe this is a crucial mistake. In fact the more I delve into Planet Brittlegill the more I am convinced you should go at it with a gung-ho enthusiasm and just brandish names about with utter conviction. It would make life a darn sight easier don't you think? You'd be amazed at how many mushroom hunters do this leaving me standing there either impressed, suspicious or very jealous. Again it is a case of how far you have advanced or how much of a risk you are willing to take. Mycology though doesn't reward the risk taker and relies on a studious, logical approach to get to the answer. Hence (being an impatient bugger at times), my struggle. So this is how I came to recognise Russula betularum with a fair degree of certainty - I hope it is of some assistance.

Firstly, the specimen was growing in moss beneath Silver Birch (Betula pendula) - key clue there methinks! Secondly, the taste was instantaneously hot and only the slightest nibble sizzled the tip of my tongue within a second or so. Thirdly, the cuticle of the cap peeled 3 quarters to full and so gave another determining factor. With these initial clues I added the general jizz of the species. Relatively small for a Russula and with a cap colour of light pink that was almost washed out in parts. The texture was extremely brittle and the white gills were just noticeably spread apart rather than being crowded. The stem was white and no bruising took place on handling. So far so good!

Two chemical tests were executed next with a little droplet of Ferrous Sulphate and Guaiac added to the flesh to see if there was any significant reaction. The Ferrous Sulphate turned the flesh a dingy pink with the Guaiac taking a little longer and resulting in a blue reaction. Note was taken here of how the blue increased in intensity after several hours and has made me aware once again of the need for patience.

At this point my mind was pretty much made up but a look at the spores was had anyway with measurements coming out at an average of 10.35µ * 8.86µ. Minute ornamentation was just discernible and the initial conclusion was confirmed.

The logical way in which I dealt with this species is no coincidence and surely not based on luck. The tome 'The Genus Russula in Great Britain' by Geoffrey Kibby seems to be a wonderful purchase and after this minor success I am looking for more of the same. Optimistic or just plain daft - you decide!