Obviously, when we go out in search for wild mushrooms, we are typically not nosing around for poisonous ones, but the odds are that some will cross our paths. In fact, some highly toxic mushrooms are also highly present, which is why it is important to be able to recognize both edible and dangerous mushrooms.
In particular, it’s important that we are aware of many of the troublesome lookalikes for popular wild edibles, such as chanterelle, field mushrooms, and puffballs. In fact, knowing what not to eat is as important as knowing what to eat, and if something can’t be identified 100 percent, it shouldn’t be eaten, period. A cool thing to know, however, is that no mushroom can poison a person without being ingested.
So, while we have published a good deal of info about safely foraging for mushrooms and what’s good to find, here are some of the most dangerous fungi and some of the most common toxic lookalikes.
1. Destroying Angel (Amanita virosa/Amanita bisporigera)
Known as one of the deadliest mushrooms out there, the destroying angel appears, in fact, angelically white against the forest floor. It has a white cap, white stalk, and white gills, which create a white spore print. That spore print is particularly important when novices are distinguishing between destroying angels and meadow mushrooms (Agaricus campestris).
The destroying angel causes nausea and diarrhea sometime between five and 12 hours after being consumed. The problem is that it feels as if the worst has passed, luring victims into skipping a trip to the hospital. After a day or two, too late for help, they suffer liver or kidney failure, go into a coma, and die.
2. Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)
The death cap has a horrible reputation as being one of the most likely mushrooms to poison a person. It only takes a few bits of the death cap to kill someone, and even more problematic, those who have eaten and survived it claim that it is a particularly delicious mushroom. However, six or more hours later, there is a price to pay, including severe stomach cramps, vomiting, and explosive diarrhea. Like the destroying angel, the death cap often allows for a rest period, at which time it ravages the liver, causing it to fail. Upon ingestion, 60 percent of the toxins go to the liver.
3. Deadly Galerina (Galerina autumnalis – Galerina marginatus, Galerina venenata)
One of a group of toxic mushrooms called LBMs, “little brown mushrooms,” the deadly galerina grows in clusters on logs. They can be found year-round but are particularly prominent in the autumn, when mushroom foraging is at its height. The edible honey mushroom pops up in the fall as well, and it might be confused with the deadly galerina. This mushroom is lethal, and the symptoms begin some 10 or more hours after consumption, starting with diarrhea and cramps, which subside as liver failure becomes more imminent.
4. Green-Spored Lepiota (Chlorophyllum molybdites)
The green-spored lepiota is one of the most commonly consumed toxic mushrooms, the leading cause of mushroom poisoning in the US, because it looks disturbingly similar to parasol mushrooms, a delicious edible. The two even grow similarly, often forming large “fairy rings” in the middle of a field. The green (or gray) spore print, however, is a dead giveaway that the mushroom is a green-spored lepiota as opposed to a parasol, which has white spores. This mushroom is more likely to make someone very ill and dehydrated, which can require hospitalization, than to kill them.
5. Jack O’Lantern (Omphalotus illudens and Omphalotus olivascens)
The jack o’ lantern mushroom is well-known for several unique qualities. For one, it’s considered a lookalike for the beloved chanterelle mushroom, which has a similar orange color. However, the jack o’ lantern’s orange is also distinguished for being bioluminescent. It contains muscarine, a toxin that causes serious cramps and diarrhea. It’s not likely deadly, but it will not be pleasant. The easiest way to differentiate between chanterelle and jack o’ lantern is that the chanterelle doesn’t have true gills, but the jack o’ lantern does.
6. Pigskin Poison Puffball (Scleroderma citrinum)
Puffballs of the Cavaita genus, in general, are edible, and they are an easily identified wild mushroom for beginners to look for. They are solid and white inside. However, there is a false puffball, the pigskin poison puffball, which on the outside, suggests something similar. The pigskin puffball, though, is purplish or black inside. While edible puffballs do get darker with age, by the time they change from white, they are no longer edible anyway. Poison puffballs are toxic but not nearly as dangerous as some of the others on this list.
For those looking to start foraging for mushrooms, this list should not deter you. Rather, it’s just part of the knowledge required to survive, like looking both ways before crossing the street or taking the right dosage of medicine. What’s important here is to realize there are dangerous mushrooms out there, just as there are delicious ones. It seems sensible to be familiar with both kinds. And, it’s definitely a decent idea to get the help of an experienced forager when first discovering these sorts of things.
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