These posts are not for foraging. They are intended for entertainment and intellectual satisfaction only. These posts are not a field guide nor comprehensive in any way - their accuracy is not assured in any way. Do not eat wild mushrooms unless you are a professional, have substantial professional assistance or have a wealth of personal experience with a specific species. Do not make any foraging decisions based on these posts. To do so could be dangerous or life threatening.
On the way back from our final foray in Parque Oncol, after finding the unbelievable Entoloma necopinatum, we stumbled upon another amazing find.
The road leading into the heart of Parque Oncol led past several stands of conifers - pine trees. These were not nothofagus conifers, but tall, non-indigenous species, brought into Chile from elsewhere in the world. As a result, Giuliana was not very interested in foraying through them.
The reasoning is fairly simple - with foreign trees comes foreign fungi - or local fungi growing in abnormal numbers or with limited biodiversity. As we've discussed many time before, certain species of fungi share mycorrhizal relationships with specific species of trees. When you bring in trees from another ecosystem they will either bring some species with them or they will create an environment where a kind of monoculture of local species thrive.
As a general rule, we didn't go into these forest. But on the way back to our hostel, as the sun was going down, we kept seeing the most amazing, giant, super robust groups of Amanitas and, eventually, we just had to stop. The results are displayed here in all their Amanita glory.
Let's continue with A.muscaria to begin with.
This forest was absolutely overrun with Amanitas
A.muscarias were growing in giant stands, groups of twos and three and fours, at every point of maturation. This picture gives a good send of the life cycle, although it leaves out the button phase, which was difficult to find because there was easily three or four inches of pine needle humus built up on the forest floor within which the buttons would hide.
This photo is a tad bit blurry, but it does a great job of displaying morphological features that are important. You can make out the volva, the remnants of the egg from which the Amanita bursts by looking at the bottom of the stipes of two leftmost mushrooms. In the three left most mushrooms you can make out the prominent veil remnant, especially the picture perfect skirt of a veil left on the largest mushroom. Looking at that mushroom, you can see the perfect red coloration of the cap, the slight striations along the edges as it matures, and, of course, the particulate remnants of the universal veil on top.
Thanks to Mario Brothers, perhaps no other mushroom on Earth is more universally recognizable than A.muscaria. Of course, the popular rendition has a bright red cap perfectly covered in veil remants - like this.
Doesn't that just make you smile? It makes me smile.
Running around this forest from mushroom to mushroom, was one of the most exciting parts of the trip for me. As a busy city dweller I rarely get the opportunity to get out into the forest and search for big fleshy mushrooms after a good rain. I almost never get to go searching through healthy conifer forest for big ole things like these, or A.jacksonii or even Boletus or Suillis species.
When I go foraging I take what I can get and make the best out of it, usually bending down real close and struggling to get a good picture of some tiny thing or another.
But not here baby! In this forest the mushrooms popped up to greet you. They got so big, and were numerous, you were liable to trip over them.
There were so many that we took a group photo, each with a giant muscaria, and still left a ton of muscaria unharvested.
Now, I don't usually talk about the effects of eating fungi, as everyone knows. But, because this post is all about different species of Amanita - and the drastic differences in edibility each species presents - I think this is a good teachable moment to go into a little more detail.
A.muscaria is technically a poisonous mushroom. It contains a water soluble mycotoxin that begins in the form of ibotenic acid and which is metabolized in your body as muscimol. Muscimol is a psychoactive chemical, as well as a powerful depressant and, depending on who you ask, it has either an enjoyable effect or a horrendous one. There are stories of people eating these mushrooms and feeling euphoria. Perhaps most famously they are known in parts of Siberia and traditionally used in shamanistic-like rituals by certain people's there. Gary Lincoff wrote a paper on the subject relating his own experience ingesting A.muscaria in Siberia and appeared to have an odd, but not bad, time of it.
However, Muscimol is not, on its face, a fun chemical. There are other descriptions of individuals eating this mushroom and experiencing something that sounds awfully similar to being badly poisoned. Uncontrollable sweating, trouble breathing, headaches, nausea, dizziness, delirium, uncontrollable salivation. From everything I've read, the experience people have when they ingest this mushroom is, on average, quite negative.
The Chileans agree entirely by the way. Several people, when they saw us picking A.muscaria's elsewhere in the country, were quick to tell us the mushrooms were poisonous, and without caveat. The locals don't go near the things, and I can't blame them. If you read guides, they will label them as poisonous, and all the anecdotal and objective evidence I've come across almost universally supports that label.
Now, lets compare A.muscaria to a different species, one that has no such psychoactive components.
This post is a good opportunity to begin paying attention to the ways mushrooms in the same genus do and do not look similar. These A.rubescens share some traits with the A.muscaria above, and lack others. The first big one is the color difference in the cap. Where A.muscaria is bright red, A.rubescens is a different shades of brown - darker in the center of the cap and lighter around the edges.
The thick stems have some of the same fibrillose texture and they have a slight pinkish coloration. You can see the gills are still white, and there is still a prominent veil remnant, best highlighted by the middle fruiting body. Also, although it's hard to see in this photo, A.rubsecens doesn't have quite as obvious a volva as A.muscaria and other species of Amanita, although a bulge at the base of the stipe is obvious and a search in the ground near the base should reveal a volva remnant.
Let's take a better look at the cap.
Here you can better see the remnants of the universal veil on the cap, similar to A.muscaria.
But if you compare the warts on this species back to A.muscaria you'll notice they are more numerous in general and less raised off the cap. They make a tight layer of texture around the edge of the cap and allow some of the underlying cap to show through nearer the center and as the cap expands. You can also see in this photo the white gills prominently displayed on an older cap that has become upturned in time. I don't have a photo of it, but the flesh "blushes" and turns pinkish on damage or exposure to the air, which is why this is grouped by some into an unofficial grouping of Amanita's called the "blushers."
A.rubescens may, technically, be edible - but really no one recommends it.
All parts of A.rubescens are poisonous and can cause gastric upset or serious illness when raw or improperly cooked.
One of our number decided to give this mushroom a culinary go while on the trip and regretted it immensely soon thereafter, having incorrectly prepared the mushroom and finding it ultimately extremely bitter and gastrically very upsetting. Whereas the local practice would be to par boil the A.rubescens thoroughly and discard the water, even a couple of times, this person simply pan fried the mushroom in a great deal of butter, which was then ingested together.
However, all told that adventurous eater was very lucky those were the only symptoms they experienced. As we well know there are several species of absolutely deadly poisonous Amanita species, and in general they can be difficult to tell the difference between. Even among the "blushers" there are some species that have not been confirmed as edible, and whether they can be safely eaten or not is entirely unknown.
It goes without saying - although I've said it at the top of this post and many times before, that I don't recommend eating this, or any other mushroom you've found without professional or very knowledgeable local guidance as to species and proper preparation.
Ultimately, we found three Amanita species in this forest, although one evades my camera almost entirely except for this one photo.
Here Giuliana holds all three of the Amanita species we encountered in this one amazing conifer forest, each representing, in a sense, their perfect selves.
To the far right you have a perfect A.muscaria - poisonous in its own special, disturbing way. In the middle you have A.rubescens, edible by some estimation with proper cooking.
But then, on the far left, who is that little guy? Go ahead and compare him to the other two mushrooms we've seen and you'll see, even from this one photo that he has any of the same characteristics in a broad scope. Try to look at it yourself and then I'll point out the ways it is similar.
OK, what did we see. It has a bulbous base that looks suspiciously volva like. It has a veil remnant, in the form of a ring about midway down the stipe and more skirt like material down near the base. It seem to have a slightly fibrillose stipe with a bit of texture being apparent in this photo. It has a cap with small particulate around the very edges, as well as a small white patch near the center which indicates the remnants of a universal veil. (Plus, I'll give you a hint, if you turn it upside down you would see the same perfect white gills).
That is another Amanita inhabiting this same forest! But this Amanita is deadly toxic - hence the name Amanita toxica. It contains a mycotoxin similar to ouabain. Long and short of it, ouabain causes the amount of sodium in your cells to increase drastically, which then results in calcium levels increasing drastically. The result is the beginning of rapid twitches in the neck and chest, trouble breathing, palpitations and irregular heartbeats, a rise in blood pressure and, with enough of the toxin and no treatment, convulsions and eventually cardiac arrest. (Wikipedia includes as part of it's symptoms the particularly frightening "clicking" and "gasping rattling.") Long and short of it, it is not a positive experience, nor is it fun way to die.
However, the presence of these three species together in the same forest serves as a great teachable moment. We talk about Amanitas with a certain amount of foreboding generally, an earned fear due to the unmitigated danger of ingesting certain of its species, specifically A.phalloides, A.bisporigera, A.ocreata, or A.virosa - or today A.toxica. There are more as well that I haven't even heard of, and probably others whose toxicity has neither been confirmed or denied.
However, like most things in the natural world the landscape of Amanitas is broad and complex. The species in that genus run the gamut in terms of toxicity, edibility, and psychoactivity - as well as more visually obvious macrocharacteristics, like color and texture.
I debated whether to include these photos in this post, as we found these in a totally different park, but seeing as we're going Amanita crazy and comparing the incredible diversity in the genus, I figured it made sense to introduce them here.
Look at that! What?!
Believe it! These are A.aurantiovelata, a species of Amanita which is indigenous to Chile. I don't have any information regarding their edibility or toxicity, but you don't need to be a specialist to see how these are in some ways similar and, in other ways very visually different, from the other Amanitas featured here.
Take a closer look.
How cute is that little Cheeto of a mushroom?!
It looks like it's covered in the bright neon orange cheesy dust they put on Cheetos right? This photo highlights some of the shared Amanita characteristics while also indicating a primary difference. We see a lightly textured stipe, we see the clear volva from which this mushroom has burst forth. We see the white gills and, in this case, the dense texture on the cap.
We do not see a veil remnant or skirt, which is very different from the other Amanita's we've seen here.
Although this young guy doesn't have big old Amanita warts on the cap, other specimens did.
Those warts are quite raised and numerous, pointy at the tops, slightly yellower there and orange at the base.
Here we have an Amanita species that shares many but not all of the key macro characteristics of the species, but looks fundamentally different from any I'd ever seen. Which is kind of the point of this post - we sometimes think of Amanita's as this straight forward genus with a few key players and a bunch of inscrutable, difficult to distinguish species, when in reality it is a wildly diverse genus filled with awesome, photogenic and unique looking species.
Recently, upon my return home, I came upon a species that looks totally different from any of these - it will be one of the first full species posts I'll write up once we get done with these awesome Chile photos - which will be a few more posts yet.
Still a couple of posts to go through, from the amazing Monkey Puzzle Tree forest and the resplendent forests nestled in the valleys of Chile's midsection.
All Photos Are My Own Except:
- Amanitaceae.org on Amanita toxica
- Amanitaceae.org on Amanita muscaria
- Amanitaceae.org on Amanita rubescens
- Amanitaceae.org on Amanita aurantiovelata
- Giuliana Furci, Hongos De Chile, Volume I, Reimpresion corregida 2016 on Amanita muscaria, rubescens and toxica - pp.38,40,42
- Wikipedia on Muscimol
- Crazy About Mushrooms talks about A.muscaria
- Gary Lincoff's Paper on Fly Agaric ingestion in Siberia
- Wikipedia on ouabain
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