Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Destroying Angel?

I'm interested in mushrooms. I photograph interesting ones we spot, usually when we're hiking in Maine. I like to compare my photographs to those in my mushroom guidebooks, but I often end up so confused that I surrender and renew my vow to never, ever touch a single wild mushroom because the edible ones look just like some that are so poisonous you shouldn't even handle them. (I never pick the mushrooms we see because I'm almost always in a state park, and one just doesn't do that. And besides, I once ate a poisonous berry because I was deep in thought about something else, and it looked interesting. I spit it out, realizing that I need to protect myself from myself.) 

Anyway, many of the mushrooms I find look like none of the specimens in my books, while others look like several dfferent species of varying degrees of toxicity. How does anyone ever become a mushroom expert?

I shot this little mushroom down the street a few weeks ago. It was growing from the newly exposed soil around the roots of a tree upended after Hurricane Irene: 

"Come here and taste me, my pretty..."

This mushroom has been haunting me. I can never be sure, but I think it could be a Destroying Angel (amanita bisporigera), innocent looking but oh-so lethal. I've always been on the lookout for one, not only because it's unusual and deadly, but because the name is so cool. I'd also like to find an amanita pantherina, the toxic, spotted variety that inspired Wendy's fancy full name, Wendelina Pantherina. 

Do you think I might be right about this shroom? Click here and here for more photos and info. The pure whiteness, that little "skirt" around the middle of the stem, the shape of the cap, the type of gills (under the cap), and the way the stem appears a little more bulbous toward the root seem to match the descriptions.  When I went back later with a plastic bag so I could pick it without touching it, examine the root, and get rid of it before a dog found it  — these taste good, unlike many poisonous varieties — it was gone.

I hope nobody ate it. That would have been the worst idea he or she ever had. Victims get violently ill many hours, or even a day, after eating even a small portion of one. I've read that they get so sick they wish they were dead. Then, after about three days, they start feeling much better — they believe they've been spared. But, alas, within another day or two, liver and kidney failure set in and that's that. They don't call these Destroying Angels, or Death Angels, for nothing.

Of course, now that you've read this, you may recognize your symptoms early enough to convince your doctor you need an immediate liver transplant, which sometimes works. If I happen to have saved your life down the road, that would please me ever so much.

But surely you already know never to eat wild mushrooms that weren't picked by a very experienced person. After I order wild mushroom dishes in restaurants, I often think, "I hope your picker is a whole lot smarter than me...."

I just find it exciting to think that a Destroying Angel may have recently appeared in Back Bay.


  1. I've sent a link to your post to Russ Cohen who teaches classes on foraging and might be just the man to tell your faithful readers more about your discovery.

  2. The mushroom in the photo appears to be not a Destroying Angel or other member of the Amanita genus but something called Lepiota naucina (synonym: Leucoagaricus leucothites). Compare to images/description at and to see the resemblance. I personally would not eat this species because it apparently makes some folks sick, plus it also has more poisonous look-alikes.

  3. I used to live with an outdoor instructor and trusted him in his mushroom id and had some wonderful dishes with wild mushrooms but wouldn't trust just anybody, so haven't dined on any wild ones since.

  4. While you've been traveling, all things mushroomy have been appearing on the intertubesz. Here are two which I thought you might enjoy:

    Lifehacker's Growing your own oyster shrooms

    and the NYT mushrooms are a wilding on the town links to a mushroom Q&A)

    That oyster mushroom project looks do-able. I might be adventurous and give it a go.


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