The Amethyst Deceiver Laccaria amethystina (occasionally incorrectly laccaria amethysea)
When out in one of my favourite places to pick wild mushrooms, there is one I can always fall back on, as it grows in abundance in many woodlands, particularly in the UK around beech – The Amethyst Deceiver. If I had one recommendation for anybody looking into learning more about wild mushrooms, it would be to ensure they have a basic understanding of common local flora, especially trees. Trees and fungi regularly form an important symbiotic relationship, often one that has evolved with the mycelium of the fungus acting to assist the tree’s root system in breaking down the available nutrients, whilst then being able to access some of the available carbon from the tree. Fascinatingly, a related laccaria bicolor has been shown to be effectively carnivorous – luring insects (specifically springtails) in before killing them to make them available for up to 25% of the nitrogen requirement of the tree! (http://www.bioinfo.org.uk/html/b148192.htm). If I am honest, I know nothing of any study of the relationship for laccaria amethystina specifically, but personally I have noticed more springtails on these than any other mushroom I collect regularly…
The Amethyst deceiver is a small, bright purple mushroom. It is usually between 0.6mm and 4cm, but I’ve found some older specimens can be as wide as 8cm, although usually they are very variable in shape when they are this size and often past their best for collecting to eat. The cap is convex then becoming flattened to centrally depressed with time. They are a very deep purple-lilac, (the colour of Amethyst crystal gives them part of their name) especially when it is damp, but they dry a much softer lavender-buff colour. They are part of the laccaria, the “deceivers”- a genus named as their appearance can be so variable – this means whilst they are simple enough to recognise, you should be familiar with the fundamentals of mushroom identification, and as always NEVER EAT ANYTHING YOU ARE NOT 100% SURE OF. One other consideration as with many mushrooms is their ability to bioaccumulate toxins from a soil, and the amethyst deceiver can do this with arsenic – it is always advisable to have a knowledge about the history of the use of the land where you are picking if you intend to eat them.
The gills are concolorous with the cap, as is the stem, which becomes hollow and covered in whitish fibres down towards the base where it attaches to the lilac coloured mycelium.
This mushroom is commonplace from mid to late summer until after the frosts get heavier in early winter, and is locally abundant forming large groups. Note the leaf litter is predominantly fallen beech leaves in the pictures below
Although like all laccaria, this is not considered a “choice” edible species – to be frank it is quite bland and a little chewy for some, it can be relied upon to provide and when there are enough I find it is well worth collecting. One of the few species it could potentially be confused with is the lilac fibrecap, (Inocybe geophylla var. lilacina), but whilst the lilac fibrecap has brown coloured spores, the amethyst deceiver has white spores which can occasionally be seen in the gills – if you look closely to the one farthest right of the below picture you can see some:
Here are some dried, a stark reminder that this mushroom weathers a lot of it’s colour out, and can be very variable with age. If in doubt, leave it out – I usually find enough bright amethyst coloured ones to never have to question anything, and I suggest you take this view too – it really is not a mushroom that is worth taking any risk for!
If you do go out collecting these or any other wild mushrooms, please be aware that this article is not intended as a field guide. I would always recommend cross-referencing at least 3 authoritative books on the subject, (see below) and NEVER, EVER EAT ANYTHING YOU AREN’T SURE OF!
Also, consider the amount you are taking and ensure it is never more than you truly need - all plants and animals have an important role in the delicate balance of any ecosystem, but especially our ancient woodlands so please be respectful in your approach to wild mushroom collecting.