This year I got a touch of mushroom madness.
No, not that kind of mushroom madness. I haven’t ever done psilocybin or any other kind of “magic” mushrooms. Mushrooms hold a different kind of magic for me. The photographic kind. And Amanitas are especially powerful magicians. Just look at this beauty –
Isn’t it amazing? I’ve never seen a stem like that before. Reminds me of Big Bird’s legs. Crazy. But it’s so perfect and fresh. Took me a while to get set up for it, but I love this angle. It shows off the ring or skirt that is the remains of the partial veil that covers the gills when it first emerges from its egg.
Yup, Amanitas form their fruiting bodies inside little egg-like structures that are just below the ground. The outer part of the egg itself is made up of what is called the universal veil and the remains of that make these warts that you can see on many varieties like this big beauty –
If you compare A. flavoconia to A. muscaria you can see how the warts are different for each species. A. Muscaria generally has larger patches and they are more universally sized and spaced; right to the edge of the cap. A. flavoconia can have smaller patches that are more tightly clustered at the top of the cap. Both are yellow, but A. flavoconia can be more orange-y than A. Muscaria tends to be. It can be hard to tell them apart though.
A very close view of one (can you guess which?) I think that’s a gill all exposed and pristine.
Not all yellow Amanitas have patches though. Check this out –
It’s my first photo of Frost’s Amanita! Not the greatest specimen, but I have to start somewhere. You can see it has a ring from the partial veil, but no patches on the cap. This species rarely has them. And something’s been nibbling on it. Now that I know where they grow I can go back. Actually all of these shots so far were taken in the same general area and is already one of my favorite places to go with the camera, so even more reason now!
Speaking of nibbling. Don’t use the fact that animals eat Amanitas as a recommendation. Basically no Amanita varieties should be eaten at all. Especially these –
Collectively many white Amanita varieties are known as the Destroying Angels, Death Angels and in some cases, Death Caps. And they mean it. Just a small amount of any of these results in liver failure and death in short order. Handling them is not a problem, but that’s about it.
They are gorgeous though and I photograph them at almost every time I see one. They can be startlingly white and usually stand starkly alone.
Here is a cute little Tawny Grisette posing on the edge of a huge stump that I actually had to stand on to get this photo. Seriously, it was a good 3 1/2 feet wide. You can recognize these in a couple of ways – first is that deeply grooved edge on the cap and the yellow/orange/deep tan color usually without any warts from the universal veil. Second is that they emerge from a rather large egg that is visible most of the time. You can see it under the soil and debris in this shot. The little skirt or ring from the partial veil is usually absent as well. I used all natural light for this one, but added a bit of blur to the background since it’s so busy. I haven’t done a lot of that with mushroom photos, but I’m beginning to in what I hope is a judicious way.
But back to what might be an Amanita muscaria. At least that’s how the taxonomy goes for the moment. Even if they are basically the same species, there are are some big differences between specimens found in North America and their European counterparts. The toxin to hallucenogenic chemicals found in them are are in almost completely inversed ratios. In Europe this mushroom figures large in Norse mythology and some have come to wonder if you have to eat some of these to make a Berserker.
Berserkers are mythologized Norse warriors who were thought to be basically invincible due to their frenzied bloodlust in battle. Those who have partaken of the European Amanita Muscaria talk about feeling big – physically big. Towering over everything they see. People say they feel like gods with none of the usual human vulnerabilities to pain, trauma, or wounds. They feel faster, smarter and stronger. All the things you’d want in a warrior going into battle with nothing but a shield and a blade.
But. This is the big but. (These buts are less liked than those butts.) That won’t happen if you eat an American Amanita Muscaria because the hallucenogenic chemicals that produce that feeling in the brain are barely there. Instead this variety is loaded up with toxins that can make you feel really, really sick. The poison to fun chemicals are in almost the exact opposite proportions as the European version. Good for them, sucks for us. Maybe if we had it here, the Native America warriors could have won a few more battles.
So that’s my gorgeous group of Amanitas for this year. A new one and some old familiars. Keep a watch for a couple more mushroom-y posts coming up soon.
I’ve read in the past that Berserkers were so named because of wearing “bear shirts” (perhaps that irritated them into a frenzy?). Ah, yes, I looked it up again today and read this: “from Old Norse berserkr (noun), probably from birn-, bjorn + serkr ‘coat’, but also possibly from berr ‘bare’ (i.e. without armor).”
That make sense and a reminder of why hair shirts are punishment.
Every time I see videos about people collecting mushrooms and fungi that aren’t in the grocery store, I just get the chills. Having grown up in the country, we were taught over and over again what not to eat – and mushrooms were forbidden first and foremost, then berries, and so on. I guess it worked as I am still here! I remember, though, the first time I ever ate a mushroom – I was so scared I would be poisoned and die. I am still iffy about anything new in at the market in unfamiliar mushroom form . . . .
Definitely don’t pick for eating if you don’t know what you’re doing. After a lot of research I’m comfortable identifying a few choice edibles including chanterelles, hedgehogs and lobsters, all of which I harvested and ate this year. I’m still above ground. 😁
Good for you! Me, I’ll continue to shop!
Those yellow specimens are extraordinary aren’t they – beautiful….
Thanks so much. I can’t resist them that’s for sure!