Can You Spot an Amanita Mushroom?

Updated: Jun 8

Identifying mushrooms is HARD. So, let's start with one particular category of mushrooms. Amanitas!

It's that time of the year here in the eastern US where mushrooms of all kinds are starting to emerge. The warm temperatures and frequent thunderstorms are creating the perfect environment for fungi to thrive.

When you start to take a closer look at mushrooms, it can be overwhelming - heck, even intimidating - to attempt to recognize genus, let alone the exact species.

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But don't worry, even experienced mycologists still feel overwhelmed! 🙃


Did you know, mycology is a relatively young field? Therefore, many mushrooms are still being re-named, re-orangized within established categories, and species are still being discovered!


So... where to begin? A great way to start to harness an understanding of a mushroom's identity is to break them down into broad types. Take a look through any mushroom field guide and you'll see the fungi are arranged in sections based on broad types of mushrooms, that make digesting the information a lot easier.

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So let's break it down -


As an example, in Walter E. Sturgeon's Appalachian Mushrooms: A Field Guide the book is organized into these broad categories:

  • Gilled Mushrooms

  • Bolete Mushrooms

  • Polypores

  • Chanterelles

  • Club-Like and Coral-Like Fungi

  • Spine-Fungi

  • Puffballs

  • Cup-Shaped or Flat

  • Jelly and Rubbery

  • Morels and False Morels

In this technique Sturgeon chose to group the categories by the mushroom's reproductive surfaces (i.e. what release the spores: gills, pores, spines etc.) and the fungi's overall shape.

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Now let's look at Amanita Mushrooms. These fungi would fall into the "Gilled Mushrooms" category because Amanita mushrooms release their spores from gills beneath their cap. This category, or genus, is typically a great place to start because when people think 'mushroom,' most of us think of the iconic red amanita mushroom with white spots on the cap. The iconic Amanita mushroom we see most in illustrated depictions of fungi is the species known as Amanita muscaria. Mycologists have found that this species is so complex it has variations, such as Amanita muscaria var. formosa pictured below:

Unlike A. muscaria, A. muscaria var. formosa has a yellow to orange cap rather than a bright red color. It is the most common variety of A. muscaria found in the Appalachian region along with A. muscaria var. guessowii (not pictured).


Across variations, Amanita muscaria sports the classic *~Amanita vibe~* (if you will): a skirt-like ring on the tall slender stem, prominent warts on the cap left over from the universal veil that once covered the mushroom in its youngest stage, and a cap that is bell-shaped when young and broadens/flattens with age (take a look at the first photo featured in this post for a glimpse at A. muscaria var. formosa at a younger stage.)

 

Below you'll see a gallery of different species of Amanita Mushrooms. As you browse the photos try to take note of other characteristics these mushrooms have in common.

Characteristics that typically make up Amanita mushrooms include:

  • Universal Veil (Volva)

  • Volva Bulb at Base

  • Partial Veil (Skirt-Like Ring on the Stem)

  • Warts or Patches on Cap from Veil

  • Long Stems

  • Caps Bell-Shaped When Young, Flattening or Broadening with Age

  • Mycorrhizal (grow from soil rather than wood)

  • White-Spored


As you can see not all Amanita mushrooms display all of these characteristics at once, but you'd be surprised how quickly you catch on to this so-called

*~Amanita vibe~* in the wild.


Now that we've recognized common characteristics and browsed images of different species, the next step in becoming familiar with this type of mushroom is to take a walk! When you spot a mushroom, ask yourself, does it look like the iconic Amanita muscaria? Does it have warts on the cap, a ring on the stem, or the tall stem and broad cap with age like most do?


This is the part that takes time. Though it may feel overwhelming, experience in the field and exposure to different species in time will help you become more familiar with fungi and their identities.

 

BTW if you're interested in learning how to identify mushrooms and start foraging, take a look at these posts:


Field Guides: Where Should I Start?


Foraging 101




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