Galerina marginata — Deadly galerina

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Deadly galerina2, photograph by Adolf Ceska.

Deadly galerina12, photograph by Adolf Ceska.

Deadly galerina13, microscopic image of spores and cystidia, photograph by Oluna Ceska.

Warning: Many small brown mushrooms that are difficult to identify have potent toxins. Deadly galerina mushrooms look similar to psilocybin-containing mushrooms, and both can grow on wood chips.

Odour: Indistinct or like old flour
Cap: 1.5 to 5 (8) cm in diameter, hemispherical when young, may have an umbo in the middle. With age, caps expand, becoming convex to almost flat. Ochre to orange-brown or yellowish brown, with a lighter rim. The surface is smooth and dry or when moist, slightly viscid or greasy to touch. Flesh is thin.
Gills: Crowded, attached, sometimes slightly decurrent, pale brown to yellowish or yellow-brown.
Stems: 2-8 cm long x 0.3-1 cm wide, beige at top, darker to almost black towards the base.
Ring or veil: Small membranous or fibrillose ring located nearer the top than the base of the stem. Check young mushrooms! In older specimens, the ring is often missing, or if visible, it may consist of only a few fibrils on the stem that are hard to see.
Cup: None.
Spores: 8-11 (13) x 5-6.5 (7) µm, almond-shaped, roughened.
Other microscopic features: The edges of the gills have cystidia, enlarged cells with elongate, finger-like extensions hanging down (see image above).
Habitat: On rotting wood of conifers or broadleaved trees, on wood chips in urban areas. Sometimes, wood is buried and the fungi appear to be growing from the ground or amid moss.
Geographical range:1 Northern Hemisphere, common in Pacific northwest and BC.

Armillaria spp. 'honey mushrooms' are similar to deadly galerinas in that both grow in clusters on wood and have brown caps. Honey mushrooms however produce abundant white spores that may fall like fine snow, accumulating on lower caps in the cluster. Galerina species in contrast have brown spores. Size varies, but honey mushrooms usually have wider, thicker caps and stems over 0.8 cm wide while deadly galerina stems are usually narrower than 0.6 cm.

Galerina species could be confused with Psilocybe species. Again, spore colour helps; Psilocybe species have dark brownish/purplish spores rather than reddish-brown spores.

The numerous different Galerina species are very difficult to distinguish from deadly galerinas, and toxin content of different species has yet to be investigated.

Deadly galerinas contain dangerous and potentially life-threatening toxins that damage or destroy the liver and kidneys. Although their amatoxin concentrations rival those of death caps (Amanita phalloides), due to their small size and thin flesh, deadly galerina mushrooms are less commonly eaten in quantity enough to kill humans6 but they are poisonous to pets and have killed cats and dogs6,7.

Toxins8,9: Amatoxins, heat-stable cyclic peptides that are not destroyed by cooking. Amatoxins stop protein synthesis by inhibiting an essential enzyme, RNA polymerase II.

Symptoms10,11: Time of onset, 6-10 hours after eating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea. About 36 hours after ingestion, abnormal, high levels of liver enzymes aspartate aminotransferase and alanine aminotransferase may be detectable in blood chemistry. Liver failure may follow at about 72 hours after ingestion.

Treatment: Contact your regional Poison Control Centre if you or someone you know is ill after eating any small brown mushrooms. Poison centres provide free, expert medical advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If possible, save the mushrooms or some of the leftover food containing the mushrooms to help confirm identification.

Poison Control:
British Columbia: 604-682-5050 or 1-800-567-8911.
United States (WA, OR, ID): 1-800-222-1222.


  • Reflecting the sporadic and serious nature of Galerina poisonings, 10 North American cases were compiled from 1985-20066. Of these, liver damage was reported in six cases, kidney failure in one case. Keeping in mind that only ~10% of mushroom poisonings are reported, actual exposures to Galerina toxins may have been considerably more frequent.
  • A 32-year-old woman in Sweden collected, fried and ate what she thought were honey mushrooms10. 10 hours later vomiting and diarrhea began and 7 hours later, she went to the hospital. Blood tests showed high levels of amanitins and blood enzyme levels indicating liver damage. She was treated with fluids, repeated doses of charcoal presumably to prevent reabsorption of the amanitin, thioctic acid and penicillin G. She recovered and was discharged from the hospital in 9 days10.
  • In Japan a six-year-old boy and his family ate a meal of Galerina mushrooms11. He experienced the typical symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea about 6-10 hours later. His family experienced similar, but much milder symptoms. The boy was admitted to hospital with signs of liver damage 36 hours after ingesting the mushrooms, which became progressively worse, leading to complete liver failure 72 hours after ingestion. The child recovered after treatment with activated charcoal, a cathartic, hemodiafiltration and plasma exchanges11.
MyCoPortal. Mycology Collections Portal, <> accessed July 2018.

Specimen Galerina marginata UBC F28078 MO 119849, GenBank #MF954815.

Siegel, N. & Schwarz, C. Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast. A Comprehensive Guide to the Fungi of Coastal Northern California. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California (2016).

Arora, D. Mushrooms Demystified. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California. (1986).

Gulden, G., Stensrud, O., Shalchian-Tabrizi, K. & Kauserud, H. Galerina Earle: A polyphyletic genus in the consortium of dark-spored agarics. Mycologia 97, 823-837, doi:10.3852/mycologia.97.4.823 (2005).

Beug, M. W., Shaw, M. & Cochran, K. W. Thirty-plus years of mushroom poisoning: Summary of the approximately 2,000 reports in the NAMA case registry. McIlvainea 16, 47-68 (2006).

Beug, M. W. NAMA Toxicology Committee Report North American Mushroom Poisonings, <> accessed May 6, 2017.

Enjalbert, F., Cassanas, G., Rapior, S., Renault, C. & Chaumont, J. P. Amatoxins in wood-rotting Galerina marginata. Mycologia 96, 720-729, doi:10.2307/3762106 (2004).

Vetter, J. Toxins of Amanita phalloides. Toxicon 36, 13-24, doi:10.1016/s0041-0101(97)00074-3 (1998).

Hulting, J., Green, K. & Persson, H. Amanitin poisoning from Galerina marginata - clinical and laboratory findings in the 1st swedish case. Journal of Toxicology-Clinical Toxicology 23, 428-429 (1985).

Kaneko, H. et al. Amatoxin poisoning from ingestion of Japanese Galerina mushrooms. Journal of Toxicology-Clinical Toxicology 49, 413-416 (2001).

Specimen Galerina marginata UBC F26281, GenBank #MF954807.

Specimen Galerina marginata UBC F25298 MO 119849, GenBank #MF954798.