Delicious, Deadly, Deceptive Deathcap Mushroom

Already, underground along the margins of our pasture, the thready future of our largest mushroom is taking shape. And with the first warm weeks of spring, the plate-sized yellow parasols of this fungus will appear, off and on, for six months.

This is certainly the most visible mushroom around, and very familiar—the Deathcap (or Deathcup) mushroom, Amanita phalloides–a species name that I cannot verify to mean of or resembling a…well I can’t confirm that so maybe it was named after J Alfred Phallo. Who knows.

Very familiar. Yes. But I learned a thing or two about A. phalloides from this article at Slate.

1. It is not a native of the US
2. It was only introduced around 1938, apparently from a small population of founder-fungus probably in the soil of a transplanted European tree.
3. It is said to be delicious to eat. Don’t.
4. It is not necessarily fatal if: you DRINK LOTS OF WATER; and call the number at the end of the article for a drug that is effective against the kidney and liver death that can kill.
5. The genetic plasticity if such that this fungus has taken a wide leap in its preferred host trees—from oaks to pines in the US. This is actually pretty amazing but I’m prepared for you to yawn. Go ahead.

Poisonings are common since the range of this mushroom is bringing it before mushroom eaters for the first time in some parts of the country.

But come on people. The CUP and VEIL of the Amanitas should be plenty enough clues to say DO NOT EAT. Some, this article says, have confused it with the field Agaric (which we also have). But  Agarics campestris has distinctly brown-pink gills. You can’t miss them, and no cup and no veil.

Give these lowly adaptors the respect they deserve. As the climate warms, the Fungal diseases are on the rise, and they are coming for us.

During the past century, fungal diseases have felled great forests of elms, chestnuts, pines, and other trees around the world, overturning ecosystems and leaving grassy wastelands in their wake. The chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis is thought to have wiped out hundreds of species of amphibians and has been fingered as the cause of frog die-offs worldwide. Scientists recently reported that the fungus is also infecting and killing crayfish. White-nose syndrome was discovered affecting a few unfortunate bats in New York in 2006; the fungus responsible for the disease has since killed more than 5 million hibernating bats in 21 states and four Canadian provinces.

As we tear up forests and turn over soil, we unleash spores from their slumber, including species that humans and other animals have rarely encountered before. World trade is helping strains of fungus spread and hybridize. And our wanton use of antibacterial medicine, including in farm animals, kills the microbes that could help keep fungus levels in check.

“The environment is changing quite dramatically,” Heitman said. “Logging, gardening, forestry, and other things that perturb the environment and move around soil or trees that are contaminated with the fungus are a major contributor.”

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fred

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

3 thoughts on “Delicious, Deadly, Deceptive Deathcap Mushroom”

  1. OK! The naturalist is back! Now you need to get the camera out and give us a photo of your topic, please. Winter is almost over and your old bones can get out of the house soon, I hope.

  2. Yep, the same type of mushroom is to be found here in the Australian Capital Territory, and with similar deadly effects. It would seem that they are very similar to edible ones that are to be found in China. A couple of Chinese visitors to this city two to three years back found out the fatal way that the deathcaps are not the “good” ones ….

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