E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Gyromitra ambigua (P. Karst.) Harmaja
no common name

Species account author: Ian Gibson.
Extracted from Matchmaker: Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest.

Introduction to the Macrofungi

© Celeste Paley  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #29872)

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Distribution of Gyromitra ambigua
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Species Information

Features include saddle-shaped to 2-lobed or irregularly lobed cap that is red-brown to dark red brown, most often with violet tints, with edge curved down on one horizontal axis and up on the horizontal axis at right angles, and both fused to itself (to form the saddle) and fused to stem, white to cream or light red-brown downy underside, pale pinkish cream to purple brown downy stem that often has violaceous tints, the stem round in cross-section or fluted at base, growth under conifers (especially pine) or on conifer wood, and somewhat spindle-shaped spores with two droplets and distinct or indistinct apiculi. Gyromitra species can be very poisonous when eaten raw, although toxicity varies with the individual, and certain individuals who have eaten Gyromitra mushrooms without effect have had severe reactions on another exposure. In a 1967 report of 513 cases of this kind of poisoning, 14% were fatal. Gyromitra ambigua is probably like Gyromitra esculenta in containing gyromitrin (and other hydrazones), which is metabolized to what appears to be the major toxin, monomethylhydrazine (that has been used as a rocket fuel). Much but not all of this becomes a vapor during cooking and can be poisonous as vapor. Poisoning starts between 2 and 24 hours and may start with vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and headache. Sometimes there is fever. Liver toxicity occurs about 36-48 hours, and then neurological symptoms including seizures and coma. Sometimes there is intravascular hemolysis, kidney failure, or methemoglobinemia. With lower doses, there is still concern that these mushrooms are carcinogenic. (Benjamin, from "Gyromitra species"), G. ambigua collections examined from WA, AB, MB, PQ, SK, YT, AK, Finland, distribution also includes BC, and reported from MT, eastern North America, Europe, and Asia, (Abbott), NJ (Phillips)
0.3-4.6cm across (up to 7cm across fresh), 0.2-2.5cm high, irregularly lobed, often 2-lobed, margin flared when young, becoming appressed to stem, usually fused to stem and along cap; when fresh red brown to dark red brown, often with violet tints, when dry dark red brown to blackish red brown; undulate rugose [wavy-wrinkled] or rarely smooth, (Abbott), 2-7cm across, "saddle-shaped to 3-lobed, with incurved margin; dark reddish brown with a distinctly violet tinge, sometimes almost black when dry"; smooth when young, becoming irregularly wrinkled, (Phillips), fruitbody resembling Gyromitra infula, but smaller on average, and mostly with a more or less distinct violet tinge, especially when fresh, darker than G. infula (when dry usually brownish hoary from discharged spores rather than whitish, and may be black); when young and sometimes later too hymenium smooth, but when old often becomes irregularly wrinkled; the seam at the outer side of the lobes of the cap "seems less prominent and tighter and the hymenium is more often wrinkled" than with G. infula, (Harmaja(6))
white to cream or light red brown; pubescent, (Abbott)
0.3-5.8 x 0.15-2.1cm, equal, widening gradually to base, or widened slightly at tip and base; round in cross-section or fluted at base, solid or rarely hollow at base; pale pinkish cream or purple-brown often with strong violaceous tints; pubescent, (Abbott), 1-4cm x 0.5-1cm, sometimes irregular, wider toward base, hollow; whitish to buff with violet tints, (Phillips), resembles stem of Gyromitra infula but mostly a more or less distinct violet tinge, especially when fresh, (Harmaja(6))
not distinctive (Phillips), not distinct (Harmaja(6)
mild (Phillips)
spores 21.4-30.0 x 7.7-11.2 microns, typically subfusoid, sometimes elliptic and fusoid spores also present, smooth, with two droplets, very rarely with 1 or 3 droplets, distinctly or indistinctly apiculate, apiculi 1-2 microns long, broadly rounded, (Abbott), spores 22.0-33.0(37.5) x 7.5-12.0 microns (excluding the perispore 20.0-29.0 (34.5) microns long), "subfusiform to broadly fusiform, inequilateral", smooth, colorless in KOH, yellowish in Melzer's reagent, "perispore surrounds the spore, but it is usually observable only at the apices where it is inflated and off from the spore wall forming an appendage of varying breadth" (1.5-3.0 microns), perispore plasma deeply staining in cotton blue, spore rather thick-walled (about 0.5-0.6 microns), with 2 large droplets, mostly 1-seriate; asci 8-spored, 210-280 x 10-20 microns; paraphyses +/- straight, very thin-walled, occasionally branching in lower part, septate, clavate to subcapitate, +/- gradually expanding to tip which is 10 microns wide at most, encrusted and intracellular pigments exactly as in G. infula, (Harmaja), spores 22-33 x 7.5-12 microns, subfusiform to broadly fusiform, with 2 large oil droplets, (Phillips)

Habitat / Range

single, gregarious, or scattered in soil or duff or on rotted wood under conifers, from July 23 in AK to February 7 in BC, (November through February collections only known from southern coastal regions), (Abbott), single or in groups on barren sandy soil along roads and paths near pine, (Phillips), single or in groups, always near pines (Pinus sylvestris), "almost always on barren sandy soil, very often along roads and paths (rarely on burnt areas, among charcoal, in decaying wood or on the margins of pine bogs), from late July to the end of October", mostly in northern parts and at higher elevations up to the limit of Pinus sylvestris (Scotch pine), (Harmaja(6) for Fennoscandia)

Taxonomic and Nomenclatural Links

Additional Range and Status Information Links


poisonous (Harmaja(8), who discusses a case in which the consumption of the water used in boiling along with the mushroom apparently was associated with a poisonous reaction)

Additional Photo Sources

Related Databases

Species References

Abbott(1), Phillips(1)*, Benjamin(1), Harmaja(6), Harmaja(8)

References for the fungi

General References