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Lethal webcaps
Cortinarius rubellus 01.jpg
Deadly webcap, Cortinarius rubellus
Fool's webcap, Cortinarius orellanus
Scientific classification
C. rubellus
C. orellanus
Binomial name
Cortinarius rubellus
Cortinarius orellanus
Cortinarius rubellus
View the Mycomorphbox template that generates the following list
Mycological characteristics
gills on hymenium
cap is umbonate
hymenium is adnexed
stipe has a cortina
spore print is brown
ecology is mycorrhizal
edibility: deadly

The Orellani are a group of seven related species in the genus Cortinarius that have been classified as a section of the subgenus Leprocybe or a subgenus in their own right.[1] They are among world's most poisonous mushrooms as they contain the highly toxic compound orellanine. The best-known species are the deadly webcap (Cortinarius rubellus, formerly also known as C. speciosissimus or C. orellanoides) and the fool's webcap, C. orellanus.

The mushrooms' characteristics are quite common, making them difficult to identify, which often leads to fatal poisonings. Young examples of the species often have a veil between the cap of the mushroom and the stem. This veil looks like a cobweb, hence the name. The veil however partially or completely disappears in older specimens. Some other characteristics for each of the mushrooms are given below.


Deadly webcap (Cortinarius rubellus)[edit]

Spore color: Rusty brown to orange
Cap: 3–7 cm rusty brown to orange. Often has a steeper and darker colored elevation at the top of the cap, but this varies greatly from specimen to specimen
Gills: Wide gaps between the gills which can be, but are not necessarily, connected to the stem
Location: Rare, but common in temperate parts of northern Europe. Has been encountered as far north as Finnish Lapland.
Habitat: pine woods with acidic soil
Other details: Young specimens contain a pale web between the cap and the stem. Sometimes parts of this web can be seen as a yellow ring on the stem or at the edge of the cap. The fruiting body of the mushroom blossoms from mid-summer to late autumn.

Cortinarius rainierensis, described in 1950 by Alex H. Smith and Daniel Elliot Stuntz from material collected Mount Rainier National Park,[2] is a synonym.[3]

Fool's webcap (Cortinarius orellanus)[edit]

Spore color: Rusty brown to orange
Cap: 3–8.5 cm, concave
Gills: Similar to those of the deadly webcap
Location: Common throughout Europe, rare in the northern parts of Europe. Has been observed as far north as southern Norway
Habitat: In forests, around trees where the soil is alkaline or acidic
Other details: Young specimens of the fool's webcap also contain a web between the cap and the stem that partially or completely disappears as the specimen ages.


The deadly webcap and the fool's webcap both contain the toxin orellanin and orellin, orellinin[4] and Cortinarin A, B, C.[5] A characteristic of orellanin poisoning is the long latency; the first symptoms usually don't appear until 2–3 days after ingestion and can in some cases take as long as 3 weeks. The first symptoms of orellanin poisoning are similar to the common flu (nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, headaches, etc.). These symptoms are followed by early stages of kidney failure (immense thirst, frequent urination, pain on and around the kidneys), and eventually decreased or nonexistent urine output and other symptoms of kidney failure occur. If left untreated, death will follow. There is no known antidote against orellanin poisoning, but early hospitalization and treatment can sometimes prevent serious injuries and usually prevent death. If you suspect orellanin poisoning, seek emergency medical attention.

Both of these mushrooms can be confused with each other and many incidents of mushroom poisoning have occurred where inexperienced mushroom hunters have confused these mushrooms with edible mushrooms, such as the chanterelle, or hallucinogenic mushrooms.[6] Extreme care should be taken when picking mushrooms like the cleaned funnel chanterelles as these mushrooms share the same habitat as the deadly webcap and the fool's webcap.

In Poland during the 1950s there was a small epidemic where over 100 people became ill. What caused the illness remained a mystery until 1952 when Polish physician Stanisław Grzymala discovered that everyone suffering from the illness, which by then had claimed several lives, had eaten the mushroom Cortinarius orellanus.[7][8]

The LD50 of orellanin in mice is 12–20 mg per kg body weight. From cases of orellanine-related mushroom poisoning in humans it seems that the lethal dose for humans is considerably lower.

Several more mushrooms in the genus Cortinarius are suspected to contain orellanin or other deadly toxins. Among them are Cortinarius callisteus and Cortinarius limonius.

Notable poisonings[edit]

Nicholas Evans, author of The Horse Whisperer, his wife Charlotte Gordon Cumming, and two other relatives were accidentally poisoned in September 2008 after consuming Cortinarius rubellus and/or Cortinarius speciosissimus that they gathered on holiday.[9] Although the poisoning was non-lethal, Evans and the others suffered severe renal damage and had to undergo kidney dialysis.[10][11] All four victims were informed that they would require kidney transplants in the future. Several years later, Evans received a kidney donated by his daughter, Lauren.[12][13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gasparini B (2004). "Cortinarius subgenus Orellani in Australia and in the world" (PDF). Australasian Mycologist. 23 (2): 62–76.
  2. ^ Smith AH, Stuntz DE (1950). "New or noteworthy Fungi from Mt. Rainier National Park". Mycologia. 42 (1): 80–134. doi:10.2307/3755245. JSTOR 3755245.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Keeler, R. F. (1991-03-01). Handbook of Natural Toxins: Toxicology of Plant and Fungal Compounds. ISBN 9780824783754.
  5. ^ Keeler, R. F. (1991-03-01). Handbook of Natural Toxins: Toxicology of Plant and Fungal Compounds. ISBN 9780824783754.
  6. ^ Franz M, Regele H, Kirchmair M, et al. (November 1996). "Magic mushrooms: hope for a 'cheap high' resulting in end-stage renal failure" (PDF). Nephrol. Dial. Transplant. 11 (11): 2324–27. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.ndt.a027160. PMID 8941602.
  7. ^ See:
    • Alina Skirgiełło and Andrzej Nespiak (1957) "Erfahrungen mit Dermocybe orellana (Fr.) in Polen: A. Cortinarius (Dermocybe) orellanus Fr. non Quél. — cause d'intoxications fongiques en Pologne en 1952-55" (Experiences with Dermocybe orellana (Fr.) in Poland: A. Cortinarius (Dermocybe) orellanus Fr. non Quél. — cause of mushroom poisoning in Poland in 1952-55) Zeitschrift für Pilzkunde (Journal for Mycology), vol. 23, pages 138-139.
    • Stanisław Grzymala (1957) "Erfahrungen mit Dermocybe orellana (Fr.) in Polen: B. Massenvergiftung durch den Orangefuchsigen Hautkopf. (Experiences with Dermocybe orellana (Fr.) in Poland: B. Mass poisoning by the orange-red web-cap), Zeitschrift für Pilzkunde, vol. 23, pages 139-142.
  8. ^ Spoerke, David G.; Barry H Rumack (1994). Handbook of Mushroom Poisoning: Diagnosis and Treatment. CRC Press. p. 250. ISBN 0-8493-0194-7.
  9. ^ Grice, Elizabeth (August 2, 2011). "Nicholas Evans: 'I wanted to die. It was so grim'". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  10. ^ Evans, N.; Hamilton, A.; Bello-Villalba, M. J.; Bingham, C. (2012). "Irreversible renal damage from accidental mushroom poisoning". BMJ. 345: e5262. doi:10.1136/bmj.e5262. PMID 22885396.
  11. ^ ""Horse Whisperer" Author Poisoned By Mushrooms". The Huffington Post. Associated Press. September 2, 2008.
  12. ^ "Author of Horse Whisperer poisoned by eating mushrooms has kidney transplant from daughter". Daily Mail. London. July 16, 2011.
  13. ^ Daoust, Phil (September 16, 2010). "How to pick wild mushrooms". The Guardian. London.

External links[edit]