Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria

Scientific Name: Amanita muscaria (Amanitaceae). Muscaria='associated with flies'.

English Name: Fly Agaric (Amanita and allies family).

French Name: Amanite tue-mouche (='fly killing amanite'); Fausse oronge (='false Caesar's mushroom').

5 Key Characters:
  • often grows in groups and reappears for several years in the same spot. 
  • cap entirely covered in white 'warts' when young.
  • red skin revealed as cap expands and the 'warts' are separated to form flecks on the surface.
  • cap 10 - 20 cm in diameter, domed at first, then flattening, usually ending up slightly concave when mature.
  • white flesh which turns yellow when exposed to the air; white gills which go pale yellow with age; white stem with a ring and volva at the base.

Lookalikes: Caesar's Mushroom Amanita caesarea, which is much rarer, does not have white flecks on the cap, has a yellow stalk, and is orange rather than red, with faint striations around the edge of the cap. Blusher A. rubescens, which always stains pinky red when damaged. Beechwood Sickener Russula nobilis, which is very brittle and does not have a ring or volva on the stem.

Habitat: Woodland. The mushroom forms a mycorrhizal relationship with trees, especially Silver Birch Betula pendula, Pines Pinus spp and Spruces Picea spp.

Fruiting Period: August-September-October-November.

Status: Common. This is the mushroom of fairytales and illustrated childrens' books.

Edible or Toxic? Hallucinogenic, and whilst not usually deadly, it is toxic. The quantity of psychoactive compounds varies considerably from mushroom to mushroom. The compounds can cause a range of symptoms including drowsiness, nausea, sweating, distortion of sight and sound, euphoria and dizziness if the dried mushroom is consumed. Eating the raw mushroom is known to cause severe gastric upsets. The toxins are not completely destroyed when the mushroom is cooked. Traditionally used to kill flies by being soaked in milk. Supposedly the flies were attracted to the saucer of mushroom impregnated milk which they sopped up and were poisoned.

Further Reading and References:
The Toadstool of the Fairytales, a blog post on our daily blog Days on the Claise.

Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:

Demonstrating the difference between Caesar's Mushroom (on the left) and Fly Agaric (on the right). Note the difference in the red tones of the caps, the white flecks on the Fly Agaric compared to the smooth cap of the Caesar's Mushroom and the white stem versus the yellow stem.

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