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Amanitaceae (Amanita and Limacella)

Expert links: Amanita Phalloideae Lepidella/Saproamanita
Validae Caesareae Vaginatae Limacella

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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.

Amanita is a fascinating genus, because it contains the entire spectrum of edibility. Some are deadly poisonous, some may make your red blood cells explode if eaten raw, and some are delicious edibles. If you're not totally sure you can tell them apart, leave them all alone.

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, usually 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 the stems may flare at the top and the connection looks ambiguous! They are not as obviously free gilled as, say, Pluteus, Agaricus or Lepiota, so do not be fooled!

Pluteus: Gills very obviously don't come anywhere near the stem.

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 pale 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".

A. chrysoblema ('muscaria subsp. flavivolvata') - red cap, yellowish warts. Spring and fall.

A. muscaria - found under introduced trees and often has white warts.

Either species may be orange capped, similar to A. aprica.

Yellow capped versions of both species have been called A. 'muscaria var. formosa'. Similar to A. 'gemmata'.

White capped versions of both species have been called A. 'muscaria var. alba'. In both species, this albino form has white warts, not yellow, and can brown significantly in age. Can be confused with Lepidellas

Other related Amanitas:

A. aprica - found in spring, yellow or apricot, with warts that look like they were ironed onto the cap, with a collar and/or concentric circles around the stem.

A. pseudobreckonii n.p ('gemmata') - a different yellow than the yellow A. muscaria, usually less stocky and with a single ring or collar on the stem. Cap warts wash off easily. Spring and fall. A similar undescribed species occurs further south in OR.

A. pantherinoides ('pantherina') - brown or yellow-brown with a collar, more cap warts and stockier. A second stocky yellow species occurs further south in OR. A. augusta has a yellow partial veil and lower stem bulb often with scales like A. muscaria that redden. Spring and fall.

A. alpinicola (alpina) - high elevation under 5-needle pine, partially buried, fused warts like A. aprica, stem collar like A. gemmata. Paler yellow. Partial veil fleeting.

A. 'farinosa' - this fuzzy grey Amanita (stockier than the slender true A. farinosa of the east) with a bulby stem base sure looks like a section Lepidella. No partial veil.

 

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).

A. ocreata group - Destroying Angel - an almost pure white spring mushroom, very rare here, thankfully. KOH turns the cap yellow.

 

3. Sections Lepidella and Saproamanita - contains deadly poisonous species. Possibly the most primitive evolutionary clades of Amanitas, giving us a glimpse of what they first looked like. Some species resembling those in Lepidella are even saprophytic. 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. magniverrucata - tall species with big warts all over the cap and stem, warts not easily removable until the mushroom is old. Described from California with pine (and oak), but found once near Portland.

Amanita pruittii - stout, grey warts, obscure stem rings like a white A. muscaria, thick spindle-shaped stem, in southern wet prairies away from trees. Saprophytic!

A. armillariiformis/prairiicola (malheurensis) - in desert grasses, without/with cap warts and with/without pink tones. Also saprophytic.

 

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.

A. augusta ('aspera'/'franchetii') - a lot like A. gemmata-pantherina except with yellow veils and no collar (just a bulb that often has scales like A. muscaria). Yellow-brown to brown.

A. spissa - red-brown cap, weakly blushing. A. augusta has yellow veils.

A. rubescens - similar, strongly blushing.

A. novinupta/cruentilemurum n.p. - white caps, strongly blushing. Spring/fall, under oak and conifers.

A. sponsus n.p. - oak, stocky club shaped mushroom with a very subtle volva, stains slowly brownish but not red, coarse brown warts textured into the white cap.

A. 'citrina' - an unnamed very pale yellow capped blusher with a prominent bulb, resembling Amanita citrina of Europe.

 

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. calyptroderma (lanei) - the fall version, often more brightly coloured, also large (up to 20cm).

A. calyptratoides - smaller (<10cm), duller brown, "water soaked" stem and ring that "dissolves" and could be easy to miss. Oak.

A. velosa - below, 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. pachycolea group - large, thick volva, brown or grey, with a dark, concentric band on the cap which usually doesn't have an eggy patch.

A. constricta - brown or grey cap, sac volva with a grey interior appressed tightly against the stem except at the top.

At least a half dozen unnamed species resemble one or both of these species, or somewhat in between, incorrectly called A. 'vaginata'.

A. alaskensis n.p. ('ceciliae') - grey warts on the cap like A. muscaria and a constricted or indistinct volva. Lots of stem ornamentation (which widens).

A. populiphila - pale tan cap under Populus, stem may also widen.

A. protecta group - stocky, pale grey cap with warty patches under willow and oak. Two other as yet unnamed species are similar.

A. velosa - bright cap (rarely albino), common in CA. A hint of what looks like a partial veil makes it resemble a Caesar. Oak.

 

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 mushroom when young. It is common to find a mushroom with a sticky cap, but less common to find a sticky stem too, which some (but not all) Limacella might have. They are harder to recognize once the slime has dried. They usually have only faint remnants of a partial veil, and some smell strongly farinaceous. Rare. They don't get quite as large as some Amanitas, and are usually all <10cm across. One exceedingly rare species is pink with a dry stem and well developed ring on the stem.

Limacella glioderma group - three reddish to orangish capped unnamed species. All are probably strongly farinaceous and have a mostly dry stem. (Subgenus Limacella).

Limacella 'glischra' - orange capped unnamed species, farinaceous with a slimy stem. (Subgenus Zhuliangomyces).

L. 'illinita' - white, somewhat farinaceous, slimy stem. (Subgenus Zhuliangomyces).

L. roseicremea - rosy white, unique well developed ring on a dry stem, farinaceous. (Subgenus Limacelloides).

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.

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