The Amanita Family

Of all the mushroom families, none holds more fear, fascination, mystery and magic than the Amanitas. The Amanita genus holds about 600 species of mushroom (only about 50 of these are found in the UK), including some of the most toxic known mushrooms in the world. There are also a number of edible species, as well as some hallucinogenic varieties. This genus is responsible for approximately 95% of mushroom-related fatalities, with the Death Cap, A. phalloides, accounting for about 50% on its own! Other highly toxic members include the The Destroying Angel, A. virosa; the Panther Cap, A. pantherina; and the famously beautiful, but hallucinogenic, Fly Agaric, A. Muscaria.

A. phalliodes, the Death Cap.

A. Pantherina, the Panther Cap

A. virosa, The Destroying Angel.

A. Muscaria, The Fly Agaric.

Amanita Characteristics

Most Amanitas share a number of common characteristics which can help you with an ID:

  1. They grow on soil or earth, and always in association with certain trees. For this reason, Amanitas are considered to be woodland fungi.
  2. All Amanitas emerge from an egg-sac like membrane called a universal veil. This veil covers the the whole of young, immature fruiting bodies, so they often look like small eggs to begin with. This veil is broken as the mushroom develops and grows, and remnants are left on the mushroom cap, usually in the form of scales or warts, or can be found dangling from the cap edges. It is important to note that these scales may not be present on all Amanitas - in some cases, the remnants may not be there at all, or may even be washed off in the rain.
  3. The remains of the universal veil are also left at the base of the stem and usually take the form of a bulbous, membraneous cup or sac. This is called a volva, and is a key identifying feature of all Amanitas.
  4. Most Amanitas have pale gills, quite often, white, which usually stop before reaching the stem.
  5. They tend to have dry caps as opposed to slimy ones.
  6. Most, but not all, have a membranous skirt attached to the stem somewhere below the cap. This is the remains of a partial veil that protects the gills as the mushroom is developing. Amanitas without this veil, and consequently, a skirt, are called Grisettes.
  7. They have white spore prints.

This beautiful example of an Orange Grisette (A. crocea) clearly shows the egg-sac like Volva at the base of the stem. Being a Grisette, this Amanita lacks a skirt.

The gills of most Amanitas are pale, and terminate before the stem.

Staying Safe

Due to the large number of deadly poisonous members, and the potential risk of misidentification, it is highly recommended that beginner and novice foragers don't harvest any Amanita species for the table until their ID skills become much more advanced. Arthur and I do regularly enjoy looking at, and attempting to ID Amanitas - they are indeed some of the most beautiful of mushrooms, especially the mystical Fly Agaric; but as a parent, I personally feel that Arthur is just too young to really get to grips with correct identification and the risk of getting it wrong is just too high for us. For this reason, there are no Amanita species in the Finds Catalogue.

Arthur met his first Death Cap on a foraging holiday in Scotland.