In March 2022, a hiker’s body was located in a river in Washington State after she and a friend took what was believed to be Psychedelic mushrooms while out on Wallace Falls Trail. Alisonstar Molaf is just one in thousands of victims who suffer life-threatening consequences and sometimes die after taking mushrooms. Over 5700 cases of mycetism (mushroom poisoning) were reported in the US in 2019, two of which were fatal.
Most of these cases happen because some poisonous mushrooms have edible lookalikes, and it is very easy to confuse the two. Not all mushrooms are dangerous; of course, most of them are actually harmless, and many; are pretty nutritious. However, before you munch on any mushroom you find in nature, you have to make sure that it is safe, and these ten are the most dangerous that you don’t want to lay your hands on.
Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)
If you are from Europe, you probably know never to touch this one, but if you are from Asia, you might get it wrong lots of times. Importation of trees all over the world means that this mushroom can now be found anywhere in the world, but it was commonly found under oak trees in Europe. It is part of a species of mushrooms called the Amanita species, which also includes the edible Asian Straw mushroom. When eaten, even in slight doses, its high content of the poison Amanitin can prove fatal, which is why it is the most poisonous mushroom in the world.
Many mushrooms in the species are edible, but the death cap will cause your liver and kidneys to shut down, and it will kill you if you are not treated promptly. Some people claim that it tastes like death, but in reality, most people say the death cap was the most delicious mushroom they ever ate just before the crumps and vomiting set in. You should be careful about any mushroom you find under an oak or anything that looks like the death cap that you haven’t seen in the area or eaten before.
Deadly Webcap (Cortinarius rubellus)
Orellanine is the poison in this case and it is especially dangerous because it won’t be detected until two days to three weeks after ingestion. The poison also causes the kidney to fail. Its late detection makes it more insidious as it is often misdiagnosed increasing the risk of death. The death webcap (cortinarius rebellus) belong to the family of mushrooms called cortinarius which also includes the deadly fool’s mushroom.
They are known for their brown color which extends to their gills as well and are often found in coniferous woodlands. Previously thought to be found only in Northern Europe, more samples have been found further south including the UK. The mushrooms are fairly rare compared to the death cap and tend to be seasonal growing in late summer to early winter. They can also be easily confused with the edible chanterelles.
Destroying Angeles (Amanita bisporigera)
Amanita bisporigera is the scientific name for this white bringer of death which means it belongs to the same family as the death cap. Its white color is very deceiving causing many to mistake this mushroom for the edible button mushrooms (champignons) which causes trouble for many mushroom hunters. These mushrooms can be found in parts of Europe, Canada and the US.
The contain the deadly Amanitins which can shut down your kidney and liver within five to 24 hours of being ingested. Destroying angels are more easily identified thanks to a cover on the base of their stems called the chalice of death. The cover may be left in the ground when the angel is harvested though, which is a major problem for many hunters.
The Fool’s Mushroom (Amanita verna)
This is one of Europe’s most popular poisonous mushrooms named the fool’s mushroom thanks to its close resemblance to the common field mushroom. Its scientific name is Amanita verna with its closest relatives being the death cap and the destroying angel. Like its other relatives, the fool’s mushroom is all white from the cap to the stem. Its main difference from the field mushroom is the volva which grows from the base of the stem making them easy to identify. This remains one of the most poisonous mushrooms in the world, although it is mostly found in Europe and hasn’t been found in North America.
The Little White (Trogia venetata)
This is a small white mushroom which was commonly eaten in Central and Southern China until the truth behind its toxicity was discovered in 2010. The mushroom caused the Yunnan sudden death syndrome which killed more than 260 people since the 1980s. The mushroom doesn’t contain one single mushroom.
It contains three different toxins including amino acids and an organic acid which when combined, can be fatal. After people were told about the toxic effects of this mushroom, no more deaths were recorded in Yunnan. The little white mushroom doesn’t have a feather like the amanitas. It grows on dead wood grouped together in what looks like white flower petals.
The Deadly Fibercap (Inocybe erubescens)
This is another deadly mushroom found in the UK and across continental Europe that foragers try to stay away from. It is easily confused with the edible St. George’s mushroom but there is a major difference that helps foragers avoid it. All fibercap mushrooms are actually considered poisonous with the fibers being their greatest differentiator from other mushrooms. The deadly fibercap contains high quantities of the poison muscarine and even a single mushroom is enough to kill someone. Their fibrous caps and stems are easy to spot though and their gills, stems and caps become red when bruised.
California Deathcap (Conocybe Filaris)
Known as the little brown killer, this common lawn mushroom can kill you just as quickly as the death cap. They also contain amanitins but they don’t belong to the same family as the death cap. The mushroom has a distinctive brown cap and gills that don’t grow past 3 inches, so it is easy to spot. The stems also have a ring that can be easily moved and the gills tend to be rusty. They grow on lawns in America’s pacific Northwest and not many other places which is why they are not responsible for as many fatalities as their more widespread counterparts.
The Autumn Skullcap (Galerina marginata)
Other people call it the funeral bell so, eating this mushroom doesn’t discriminate. It is a small mushroom, often growing to no more than 1.5 inches and can be found all over the Northern hemisphere as well as parts of Australia. Like the death cap, this yellow-brown fungus also contains amanitins which cause stomach cramps, diarrhea and liver failure withing 6 to 24 hours of being ingested. The mushroom is easily confused with many edible varieties including velvet foot, sheathed woodtuft among other little brown mushrooms that grow in coniferous forests.
Panther Cap (Amanita pantherina)
This is another cousin of the death cap that is very easy to confuse with the edible blusher and like the blusher, it is also found in Europe and Asia. Foragers now know how to identify it because its flesh doesn’t become red/pink when bruised unlike the blusher. It also contains the Alpha-Amanitin poison which causes liver failure within a day of being ingested.
The Deadly Dappling (Lepiota bruneoincarnata)
This was the mushroom responsible for the mass mushroom poisoning outbreak in Iran in 2018. Other cases have been recorded in Europe and Asia as well because that is where they grow. This is another group of autumn mushroom that rend to grow almost everywhere they can find dead matter which is why cases of fatalities are so many. You can always identify them by the grey scales on their caps although it is easy to confuse them with th edible grey knight mushrooms as well as some species of ringed champignons.
Have you seen any of these mushrooms in the wild? Do you know of any other poisonous mushrooms that should have made the list? Do let us know in the comments below.