Showing posts from October, 2020

Beguiling Beauty: the Death Cap

  Autumn is when mushroom enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest are bent low to the ground sleuthing for fruiting bodies of fungi that are popping up everywhere.  Fortunately for foragers and harvesters there are few (three) mushrooms that are deadly poisonous.  Let's get acquainted with the enticing but toxic Death Cap (Amanita phalloides).  The Death Cap is found low to the ground and has elegant proportions with a bell shaped cap that is pale olive green with a luster that often looks metallic.  The gills are white as are the spores (observe the white spore print that I have included); spore color is an important feature in determining mushroom types.  Notice the sac-like volva at the base of this mushroom: not all mushrooms have this feature but all Death Caps have volvas!   The toxin in this Amanita is a potent cyclopeptide called amanitin.  Amanitin disrupts the function of protein enzymes that leads to liver and kidney failure.  The onset of symptoms (abdominal pain, vomiting

October is Amanita muscaria (Fly Amanita) time!

  Whether you are an experienced mushroom enthusiast or never give mushrooms a second thought, it is impossible to not notice this most spectacular mushroom in our area: the Fly Amanita (Amanita muscaria).  As the rains of mid-October commence, this fungus puts forth its strikingly colorful fruiting bodies.  Whitish to yellow as they first emerge from leaf litter on the forest floor (or urban park areas!), the caps turn scarlet to orange with white warts speckling the upper surface. These flecks are the remains of the universal veil-the covering that protects the mushroom and its spores until it pokes its head above ground-which disintegrates as the mushroom matures.  This mushroom has become part of our culture and lore for centuries and is even used in shamanic traditions of peoples in the far north.  It is commonly known as poisonous, however some aficionados seek them out for their psychoactive effects.  Fly amanita contains a compound called ibotenic acid that is poisonous to many