Helvella lacunosa: Identification of the Fluted Black Elfin Saddle Mushroom

The black elfin saddle mushroomHelvella lacunosa Afzel. Photographed growing in moss on Sept 15, 2008, near La Ronge, Saskatchewan.


Kingdom Fungi
Phylum Ascomycota
Class Ascomycetes
Order Pezizales
Family Helvellaceae
Genus Helvella


Costapeda lacunosa (Afzel.) Falck
Helvella cinerea (Bres.) Rea
Helvella costata Berk.
Helvella lacunosa var. sulcata (Afzel.) S. Imai
  Science Rep. Yokohama Nat. Univ., Section 2 3: 20 (1954)
Helvella leucophaea Pers.
  Syn. meth. fung. (Göttingen) 2: 616 (1801)
Helvella mitra Schaeff.
  Sp. Plantarum 2: 1180 (1763)
Helvella scutula var. cinerea Bres.
Helvella subcostata Cooke
Helvella sulcata Afzel.

Common names

Black elfin saddle
Black helvella
Chipotle (Náhuatl language; Jarvis et al., 2004)
Grubet foldhat (Danish)
Gruben-Lorchel (German)
Mustamörsky (Finnish)
Piestrzyca zatokowata (Polish)
Svart hattmurkla (Swedish)
Szürke papsapkagomba (Hungarian)


Apothecium: 0.5-6 cm high, 0.5-5 cm wide, irregularly lobed and wrinkled, or saddled shaped; margin reflexed, margin fused to stem, adnate to stem at several points. Hymenium pale gray-black or dark-brown. Sterile surface gray-black, glabrous, ribbed from stem apex to margin.
Stem: 3-14 cm long, 0.5-3 cm broad, equal or tapering upward, glabrous, ribs round to double-edged, eventually lacunose internally and externally, pale gray-black.
Ascospores: 12-14 x 12-22 µm, hyaline, ellipsoid, often with one large oil droplet that may fill the entire spore, smooth-verrucose.
Asci: hyaline, cylindrical, tapering at the base, up to 260 x 17 µm.
Paraphyses: brown, contents granular, swollen up to 10 µm at the apex.
Habitat: solitary, scattered to gregarious on soil or rotting wood in conifer or mixed conifer-deciduous forests, may be found in sandy soil near Populus and Pinus; widespread, common in western North America. Fruits in late summer and fall.

Description adapted and modified from Morse (1945), Joshi et al. (1982), and Abbott and Currah (1988).

Medicinal properties

The potential pharmacologic activity of H. lacunosa was investigated using the hippocratic screening procedure in rats. This procedure was designed to help screen the qualitative pharmacological or toxicological effects of crude plant extracts (Malone and Robichaud, 1962). In these tests, H. lacunosa had dual activity: depending on the collection site it was either a ‘metabolic poison’ (causing irreversible weight loss, reduction of spontaneous motor activity, anorexia, skin plasticity, pilomotor erection, diarrhea) or as a ‘central nervous system depressant’ (simultaneous reduction of both respiratory rate and depth, reduction of spontaneous motor activity, ataxia) (Malone, 1967).

Hemagglutinating activity
Hemagglutinating activity has been detected in Helvella lacunosa, due to anti-H type lectins. Heat treatment at 37°C and above resulted in increasing loss of hemagglutinating activity, with a total loss of activity above 56°C (Bose and Bhalla, 1990).

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Abbott SP, Currah RS.
The genus Helvella in Alberta, Canada.
Mycotaxon. 1988 33:229-50.

Bose K, Bhalla V.
Anti-H type lectins in two varieties of Indian mushrooms Helvella lacunosa and Helvella macropus.
Research Bulletin of the Panjab University Science. 1990 41(1-4):89-92.

Jarvis MC, Miller AM, Sheahan J, Ploetz K, Ploetz J, Watson RR, Ruiz MP, Villapan CAP, Alvarado JG, Ramirez AL, Orr B.
Edible wild mushrooms of the Cofre de Perote region, Veracruz, Mexico: An ethnomycological study of common names and uses.
Econ Bot. 2004 58:S111-S115.

Joshi MC, Bishi NS, Harsh NSK.
3 new records of Helvella from India.
Curr Sci. 1982 51(9):474-5.

Malone MH, Robichaud RC.
A hippocratic screen for pure or crude drug materials.
Lloydia 1962 25:320-32.

Malone MH.
Hippocratic screening of sixty-six species of higher fungi.
Lloydia. 1967 30(3):250-57.

Morse EE.
Some Western Discomycetes Gyromitra esculenta, Helvella lacunosa.
Mycologia. 1945 37(4):414-24.

Toth B, Gannett P.
Four mushroom families: Carcinogenic hydrazines and their mode of action.
Fourth International Conference of Anticancer Research Rethymnon, Crete, Greece.
Anticancer Research. 1992 12(6A):1897.

Trappe JM.
Parasitism of Helvella lacunosa by Clitocybe sclerotoidea.
Mycologia. 1972 64(6):1337-40.

Zhuang W-Y.
Preliminary survey of the Helvellaceae from Xinjiang, China.
Mycotaxon. 2004 90(1):35-42.

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