Amanitaceae (Amanita and Limacella)
Amanitas are beautiful, graceful mushrooms and an important genus for everybody to recognize because the one mushroom that causes over 80% of the serious poisonings and fatalities is an Amanita, A. phalloides. It is not that it is the only dangerously poisonous mushroom around, it's just that it is one of the largest and most appetizing dangerous mushrooms. Although this mushroom is not native to the PNW, it can now be found here growing under introduced oak trees planted in urban yards, as well as near hazelnut (filbert), chestnut and beech. Due to the plethora of native oak in California, the mushroom has escaped into the wild, but so far (knock on wood) it is usually only found in the PNW in yards and landscaped parks. So you have a higher chance of killing yourself eating a mushroom from the city than you do deep in the wilderness.
Another dangerous species of Amanita is A. smithiana because it can look almost identical to Tricholoma magnivelare, the Matsutake, one of our most popular and desired wild edibles, and often grows right beside it! Mistakes are often made with Amanita because they unfortunately all taste great, even the deadly poisonous ones.
|Make sure to cut all your puffballs in half (top to bottom) before eating them to make sure they're really puffballs and not Amanita buttons!|
Amanitas are known for hatching out of an "egg", the universal veil that envelops the mushroom when it is young. There are often remnants of this universal veil visible throughout its life, resulting in the classic volva seen at the bottom of an Amanita stem. This is one of the main reasons we tell people wanting to get an ID of a mushroom to make sure they have brought the entire mushroom, including the very bottom of the stem. There are several ways the volva may appear at the bottom of the stem, and there are also different types of material left on the cap as well. The most difficult to identify are those that have little in the way of universal veil remnants or remnants that have washed away. Since the universal veil material is not really a part of the mushroom, it is easily removable without damaging the mushroom. One way to tell a Lepiota apart from an Amanita is that the Lepiota scales on its cap are a part of the mushroom, and cannot be removed without damaging it.
Limacella is a related genus whose universal veil is simply a thick layer of slime coating the entire mushroom, making it especially sticky all over when wet. If your white spored free gilled mushroom doesn't look like any of these Amanitas, consider Limacella at the bottom of the page. They are all rare.
Free gilled mushrooms that can have a similar tall and stately look and feel as the Amanitaceae family are Lepiota (white spores) and the related Agaricus (dark chocolate spores) of the Agaricaceae family (although they are usually stockier) and the Pluteaceae family (pink spored and somewhat related to Amanita).
Amanita and Limacella are found on the ground, and are mostly mycorrhizal with various trees (usually found with conifers or in mixed forests). They are medium to large in size (often 5-15cm but sometimes even smaller or larger). Never hygrophanous.
Amanitas are white spored "free gilled" mushrooms, meaning the gills run from the edge of the cap towards the stem, but do not actually touch it. Instead they turn towards the cap and connect to the cap, not the stem. However, in Amanita, this is not always apparent because they are not as obviously free gilled as, say, Pluteus, Agaricus or Lepiota, so do not be fooled!
Amanita: Not so obvious. They kind of look notched.
Amanita can be divided into 7 sections, plus Limacella. Sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 have amyloid spores (darkening in iodine).
1. Section Amanita - most of these mushrooms are hallucinogenic, but not the same way as the famous "magic" mushrooms. Ibotenic acid and muscimol are the active ingredients, and they are not illegal like Psilocybin and Psilocin. It is not uncommon to hear reports that eating one makes you think you are God, vomit a lot, go into a coma and wake up with amnesia, which I suppose is just as well given how unpleasant the experience sounds. These toxins are water soluble and I've been told that if you boil thin slices of the mushroom twice, discarding the water in between, then the mushroom might be rendered edible. Don't try this at home.
Amanita muscaria group, the classic Alice in Wonderland mushroom (probably the most famous mushroom of all time and certainly one of the most photogenic) is in this group. It comes in four colours: red, orange, yellow and white. Amanita muscaria often has lots of whitish warts on the cap that can be removed easily (and therefore, as seen in the photo of the white ones, might already be washed off). It has a ring from its partial veil and concentric rings around the base of the stem where it grew out of its "egg".
Can be confused with the rare southern Lepidella A. pruittii, with grey warts and obscure stem rings and a spindle-shaped stem, growing in wet prairies.
A. aprica - found in spring, our only other orange one ("apricot"), with warts that look like they were ironed onto the cap, and not as many concentric circles around the stem.
A. gemmata grp - a different yellow than the yellow A. muscaria, less stocky and with a single ring or collar on the stem. Cap warts are less likely.
A. pantherina grp - a brown A. gemmata with a collar, more cap warts and stockier. A. augusta has a yellow partial veil and lower stem bulb often with scales like A. muscaria that redden. Spring and fall.
A. patherinoides - honey yellow cap like A. muscaria, perhaps with a darker centre.
A. alpinicola n.p. ('alpina') - high elevation, partially buried, fused warts like A. aprica, stem collar like A. gemmata. Paler yellow. Partial veil fleeting.
2. Section Phalloideae - contains mostly deadly poisonous species. Nothing you can do to these mushrooms will remove the poison (a cyclopeptide called amatoxin) and prevent them from killing you if you eat them. They are recognized by the sac volva (as if the mushroom is sitting in a sac), usually bulbous stem, usually a non-striate cap and partial veil. (But both the volva and the partial veil can fall off). Fortunately very rare in the wild around here, you are most likely to encounter A. phalloides in someone's yard or a city park with exotic trees (oak, chestnut, hazelnut) or under our native Garry oak.
A. phalloides - Death Cap - is now found in the city of Seattle and other urban environments. Green- or yellow-brown cap (rarely white).
3. Section Lepidella - contains deadly poisonous species. Possibly the most primitive evolutionary clade of Amanitas, giving us a glimpse of what they first looked like. Some of them are even saprophytic, perhaps a holdover from before Amanita evolved to be mycorrhizal! The universal veil has not developed to leave the same type of material on the cap or bottom of stem. It may simply be a mass of cottony tissues that makes the mushrooms look fluffy, until it washes off. For this reason they are not always recognized as Amanitas. They are mostly white. Don't confuse with Matsutake! That could be a deadly mistake.
A. smithiana - spindle stem that gets wider then narrower. Tall and stately. Fluffy or scaly but no obvious volva. DEADLY.
A. silvicola - shorter and squatter. Young enough to look somewhat warty on the cap and ringed on the stem.
A. farinosa - resembles a Lepidella but actually in section Amanita, powdery grey cap.
4. Section Validae - contains species with haemolytic properties raw, so make sure to cook these well first or your red blood cells may explode. (Actually, they make blood cells in a petri dish explode; your body might be able to neutralize the toxin, but don't eat them just in case). Recognized by a abrupt bulb at the stem (less defined volva than in section Amanita) and usually a coloured partial veil. Parts of some of these species will turn red when handled (blush).
A. porphyria - grey or brown cap, grey partial veil, chevron pattern on the stem and subtle blushing on an abrupt stem bulb.
5. Section Caesareae - these Amanitas are perfectly edible. Recognized by a sac volva and partial veil (just like the deadly poisonous A. phalloides) but typically with a more striate cap, non-bulbous stem and thicker sac material. Show of hands: who feels confident enough in those subtle differences to eat one of these? Before you answer, remember that you're more likely to find a deadly A. phalloides in the Pacific Northwest than one of these. This section is named after the famous Caesar's Amanita, the bright orange Amanita that was Caesar's favourite food and so he decreed that only he was allowed to eat it and anybody else caught doing so was put to death. They mostly prefer oak but occasionally conifers.
A. vernicoccora - in the spring, recognized by its very large size, often the presence of one giant eggy patch on the cap, a striate margin and cylindrical stem and by looking almost exactly like a Death Cap.
A. calyptratoides - smaller (<10cm), duller brown, "water soaked" stem.
A. velosa - may look like it has a partial veil, but is a grisette.
6. Section Vaginatae - called the 'grisettes'. Also perfectly edible and easy to recognize by the lack of a partial veil. But remember, it is very easy for a veil to rub off, and the Lepidellas have primitive veils that are not easily recognizable. These also tend to have a greyish-brown cap, sac volva, striate cap margin and non-bulbous stem (like the Caesareae), often with a beautiful chevron pattern all the way down the stem. The volvas often have rust coloured stains on the outside, and are either grey or white on the inside (It's unclear if those characters are an indication of species or not).
A. vaginata grp - greyish, thin volva attached to stem only at the bottom. Perhaps an eggy patch on the cap.
There are rumours of a brown capped and an albino version, A. 'alba'.
A. pachycolea - the largest of the group, thick volva, brownish, with a dark, concentric band on the cap which usually doesn't have an eggy patch. One variety is paler with a constricted volva like the following.
A. constricta grp - sac volva with a grey interior appressed tightly against the stem except at the top.
A. ceciliae grp (A. protecta?) - grey-orange warts on the cap like A. muscaria and a constricted or indistinct volva. Lots of stem ornamentation.
Limacella - white spored mushrooms with free gills (although sometimes hard to recognize as free, as I stated above) whose universal veil is a layer of slime covering the entire mushroom when young. It is common to find a mushroom with a sticky cap, but less common to find the stem sticky too. They are harder to recognize once the slime has dried. They usually have only faint remnants of a partial veil (rarely leaving a ring), and some smell strongly farinaceous. Rare. They don't get quite as large as some Amanitas, and are usually all <10cm across.
L. illinita - white, somewhat farinaceous.
L. roseicremea - rosy white, unique well developed ring on the stem, farinaceous.
Congratulations! You are now familiar with one of the most popular and photogenic groups of mushrooms, and one that is important to know well if you are going to eat any wild mushrooms.