Local botanist Adolf Ceska sent along today’s photographs to help raise awareness about Amanita phalloides–one of the deadliest mushrooms in the world.
Originally a species native to Europe and western Asia, death cap has been inadvertently introduced with ornamental or agricultural trees to the western and eastern coasts of North America (via chestnuts in eastern NA); Uruguay, Australia, and South America (with oaks); Tanzania and South Africa (with pines and oaks); and Chile and Argentina (with “introduced trees”). Deaths among mushroom foragers or those who unknowingly ingest it soon follow wherever it is introduced. As Adolf wrote in his email to me, “Last year, Victoria [British Columbia] witnessed the tragic death of a young boy caused by this fungus“.
If you read the Wikipedia page for Amanita phalloides, you’ll learn of several other recent instances worldwide with fatal or near-fatal results. Death cap contains a number of toxins, including amatoxins, which do not break down with cooking or freezing. The result of ingesting these poisons is initially gastrointestinal distress, but this may resolve within a few days. At the same time, however, necrosis of the liver and kidneys is occurring. This isn’t immediately exhibited as symptoms, but these organs may soon become severely damaged–if not fatal to the person, then sometimes requiring transplants. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published some detailed accounts from a recent Amanita phalloides “bloom”: Amanita phalloides Mushroom Poisonings–Northern California, December 2016.
Tips on how to identify Amanita phalloides are available from the Australian National Botanic Gardens: Amanita phalloides and the Bay Area Mycological Society: Amanita phalloides. The latter link also provides discussion about a treatment for the toxin: intravenous silibinin, a compound derived from Silybum marianum.