Amanitaceae (Amanita Family)

The quandary of Amanitaceae: Certainly one of the most prolific families on the coast, easy to find and generically identify, yet very difficult to correctly discern species; with some of the most superb tasting mushrooms known, and some so poisonous only an immediate emergency liver transplant can save your life.

The information contained here is by no means meant to be a guide for proper identification of Amanitas.

If you don't know, don't eat it - the risk is too great. This isn't just a day or two of gastric distress we're talking about - it is literally a threat to your life. There are excellent books available, and classes and field trips you can enroll in to become proficient enough in identification to deal with Amanitaceae; without that background knowledge, I'd stay away from collection for consumption.

Amanitaceae is one of the most fascinating and beautiful families - much pleasure is to be derived simply from observing and learning; leave the gastronomic decisions to those properly trained.

Amanitas are medium to large, terrestrial and usually found in woods. The caps are bald, and often with warts or patches of veil remnant. They have white spores and white-to-pale-colored gills that may be attached or free of the cap. Some have a partial veil that usually leaves a ring on the stalk, and all have a universal veil that completely envelopes the young mushroom, resulting in a vulva at the base of the stem.

"Amanita Eggs" are developing young mushrooms, completely enveloped in the universal veil. They are often confused with puffballs, but a bisection from top to bottom will reveal the developing stalk, gills and cap in the Amanita.

Most Amanita are mycorrhizal, and most commonly found amid or near trees with whose roots they form a symbiotic nutritional arrangement. At least 25 species of Amanitaceae are known on the West Coast - the following are some more commonly found in our area:

Amanita aspera
Yellow-veiled Amanita

Amanita muscaria
Fly Agaric

Amanita pachycolea
Western Grisette

Amanita phalloides
Death Cap

Amanita velosa
Springtime Amanita




Amanita muscaria
Fly Agaric, Fly Amanita

(Amanita Family)

Amanita muscaria
600x450 JPEG - 40K

Cap: From round ball to convex to planar with age, 5 to 40 cm (2 to 16 inches) broad. Color variable, from bright red, blood, scarlet to orange/yellow to white to silver/gray/white, sometimes all at once; numerous white/gray warts from veil remnants, although these can wash off with age. Thick white flesh, firm but softening with age.

Gills: Broad, white, adnate (broadly attached), adnexed (narrowly attached) or free of stalk.

Stalk: White(ish), central, tapering up or straight, up to 4 cm (1.5 inches) thick, 5 to 20 cm (2 to 8 inches) long; basal bulb up to 6 cm (2.25 inches) thick.

Veil: Partial veil leaving ragged or toothed ring on stem, Universal veil leaving warts on cap and 2 to 4 layered vulva at stem bulb.

Spores: White print, broadly elliptical and smooth.

Habitat: Common; solitary, scattered, or in dense colonies and rings in conifer areas, natural or planted. Favors pine, spruce, fir and aspen.

Further Description and Comment: The infamous (or one of them, anyway) "magic mushroom" - the Fly Agaric is POISONOUS and HALLUCINOGENIC, as well very attractive to maggots. The effects vary greatly from person to person and mushroom to mushroom, the most common being at least an unpleasant experience all around. The principle toxin is ibotenic acid, but other toxins exist in varying quantities that exaggerate the nausea and vomiting experience. Ibotenic acid is converted to the more powerful form muscimol in the body, and affects the central nervous system, causing confusion, loss of muscular coordination, mild euphoria, profuse sweating, chills, visual distortions, and sometimes convulsions, hallucinations and delusions, and supposedly a feeling of greater strength. Sounds like a lot to go through for "mild euphoria." Quantities have the potential to be fatal. It also puts many people right to sleep, only to wake up hours later with the feeling they've been very sick. Whoopee.

The "Fly" is the basis for one of the most popular mushroom decorative motifs - it is indeed striking and beautiful - although many people don't realize it actually exists and how common it is. It is easily found in the large planted pine and fir stands on the coast - the pine and fir stand in the northeast section of San Pedro Point has an extensive colony with vast color variations that start coming out shortly after Thanksgiving and the first rains. The small trails that interlace along the hillside provide an afternoon of delightful mushroom viewing, especially if the sun is out and highlighting the patches of A. muscaria.

Some of the red Russulas may seem similar in coloration, but lack the stalk ring, bulbed base, vulva and distinctive fragments on the cap. Russulas also snap apart like chalk.

Collection is not recommended - even clean looking specimens will dissolve into balls of maggots within a day or two of bringing it home, and you wouldn't want the dog to accidentally ingest any of this. They last much longer if left undisturbed in the woods.



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