Things that Can Kill You: the Amanita Death Cap

Recently the Watsonville Patch reported that a man in La Selva who had been gathering mushrooms “inadvertently ate a poisonous fungus and is seriously ill.” Experts believe that he picked up an Amanita Death Cap–a mushroom whose ill effects can take many hours to appear; by then, it is often too late for the victim.

At the Santa Cruz Veterinary Hospital, I heard that there has recently been a rash of mushroom poisonings among pets. I worry about all the small children in this area, who might pick up a mushroom and take a bite.

I live near a damp, often misty, slough area, shaded by many old oak trees. It’s not unusual to encounter many different types of fungi, growing up out of the fallen oak leaves, or attached to tree trunks. We’ve spotted possibly “edible” Boletes, Western Jack ‘O Lanterns (their gills glow green in the dark!), and many others, such as the Mock Meadow Mushroom, that we could only identify tentatively, or not at all. It’s amazing how quickly they all pop up when the conditions are right. In any case, I’ve never wanted to take a chance on eating one. I’ll get my Boletes and Chanterelles at the market, thank you.

Photo of Amanita Phalloides (Death Cap) by M.A. Fink

One mushroom that seems to grow in abundance in the Elkhorn and Royal Oaks area–and that we have been able to identify definitively–is the Amanita Phalloides, or the Death Cap.

They are utterly innocuous looking. Graceful, white, and simple in design–but absolutely deadly. Sometimes the cap has a slightly shiny green tinge. Both the spores and gills are white (See the spore color by placing the cap gill-down on a piece of dark paper. Within an hour or two, you’ll have distinctive spore prints). And you’ll often find the remnant of a thin, white “universal veil” at the bottom of the stalk.

Photo: Amanita Phalloides in the Wild, by M.A. Fink.

In the wild, they are even more innocent looking, and can be confused with many other types of mushrooms, both poisonous and non-poisonous.

For more information, visit the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz, or the North American Mycological Association.

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2 thoughts on “Things that Can Kill You: the Amanita Death Cap

  1. I think the food editor of the Weekly put it best last year (and he may have been quoting someone else when he did it) in saying: Every mushroom is edible once.

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