October 26, 2020

Infamous Amanitas

Horror stories surrounding Amanita are countless, across centuries and cultures. Except in Antarctica, the genus is present all over the world. It maintains the disastrous reputation of fungi: Not without reason, since several of these species contain amatoxins, responsible for 90% of fatal poisonings. In North America, on average, 3 deaths per year are attributable to the ingestion of one of thesse mushrooms.The last fatal poisoning in Quebec is due to an Amanita bisporigera, one of four local destroying angels with A. amerivirosa, A. magnivelaris, and A. decipiens of our forests.

Over the millennia, each species still around has acquired attributes that promote its reproduction in its own environment. Thus, truffles, hidden underground to escape drought, attract with their aroma, predators which will spread their spores. In the case of deadly Amanitas, it is unclear what benefit they derive from their poison for their specific survival. To be sure, no one should eat a mushroom of this genus unless he is well versed in identifying them. Bunyard & Justice reminds us of this vital principle in their new book Amanitas of North America. The authors describe 120 North American species, poisonous, gastronomic, or hallucinogenic, all of them beautifully photographed. They linger on the legends surrounding these mythical mushrooms.

The most lethal of all, the one that gave its name to the phalloid poisoning, the death cap (A. phalloide) is not listed because this species is not native to North America Indigenous to Eurasia rather, in a few decades, it has spread from coast to coast on our Continent: in 2016, a toddler died of poisoning in Victoria.

Let us remember the adage: there are elderly foragers and reckless foragers, but there are no reckless old foragers.

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