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What Is an Amanita?

Amanita muscaria is a poisonous mushroom.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 August 2014
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Mushrooms in the Amanita genus can be found on every continent, including Antarctica. One of the most famous mushrooms on earth is in this genus — the fly agaric or Amanita muscaria, which is well-known for its psychoactive properties. Other members of the genus are also extremely toxic, although some are edible and even delicious. If collecting edible Amanitas for food, extreme caution is advised, as edible species can closely resemble toxic species.

All Amanita mushrooms have a set of distinguishing features which makes them readily identifiable. Young mushrooms have a universal veil which covers the entire mushroom, forming what some mushroom hunters unfortunately mistake as a puffball. As the mushrooms mature, they push through the veil, leaving a cup-like volva at the base of the mushroom. To find the volva, the mushroom may need to be dug up, as it often lurks underground.

Amanitas also have a white spore print and closely packed gills which are fully attached to the stem. Many Amanitas also have a partial veil which covers the delicate gills while the mushroom matures, leaving a ring around the stem of the mushroom after it pulls away. The universal veil often leaves patches or warts on the surface of the mushroom, and the remains of the partial veil sometimes dangle from the cap of the mushroom.

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Although most Amanitas are toxic, there are several edible species in the genus. The most well known edible Amanita is Caesar's Mushroom, a pink mushroom with a similarly pink spore print. The mushroom is found widely distributed throughout Europe, and similar North American species are also edible. This particular Amanita is quite tasty, and can sometimes be found in European markets in season. The fleshy, somewhat dry mushroom is delicious in a wide variety of preparations.

Amanita muscaria is one of the most famous Amanita, and can be readily identified by its bright red cap with distinctive white warts. The mushroom actually originates in Europe, but was brought over to North America with shipments of plants and timber, taking readily to the soil environment provided by hardwood trees such as oaks. Other well known Amanitas include the death cap, also known as the destroying angel, a distinctive white gilled mushroom. The genus also includes the death angels, several white fleshed Amanita species which are highly deadly.

Midly toxic Amanitas can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Some of the most toxic mushrooms in this genus can also cause severe damage to the liver and kidneys, which will ultimately lead to death if the poisoning is not treated. Amanitas are the leading cause of mushroom related death. They are found on every continent and closely resemble many harmless or edible species, so it is crucial that mushroom hunters learn how to properly identify mushrooms before eating them: if in doubt, throw it out!

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