The fall season is the ideal time to experience wild mushrooms in the forest. You may also see different types of mushrooms popping up in your backyard at this time of year. Some of these mushrooms are edible and delicious, but others can kill you.
One such beautiful but deadly mushroom is the destroying angel. Also known as Amanita virosa, this toxic mushroom is found in abundance in many areas of North America and Europe. It is white in color and unfortunately is sometimes confused with certain species of non-deadly and edible mushrooms.
Destroying angel mushrooms use amatoxins – a deadly toxin that, when consumed, causes intense gastrointestinal pain. Consuming enough of it will lead to kidney and/or liver failure.
And with destroying angels, just a couple of bites contain enough amatoxin to kill you.
We’ll start with the most important statement in this article first. Don’t ever eat a mushroom without being absolutely sure of its identity. Until you have some experience foraging, you must always run your mushrooms by an experienced forager to make sure that they are safe.
If you are in the US, Canada, or Mexico, the North America Mycological Association (NAMA) has mushroom foraging clubs in many cities and towns, and it is likely that there is a club near you. Visit their website to learn more.
And always carry a good field guide when you are looking for mushrooms. We recommend the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms.
Make sure that you know how to identify destroying angels and other poisonous mushrooms common to your area to rule out the possibility of picking one by mistake.
Also, keep in mind that destroying angels do grow on lawns. If you have a toddler or a pet at home, be extra careful that they aren’t eating mushrooms in the backyard. Every year dogs and children are poisoned after picking and eating destroying angels.
What Do the Destroying Angel Mushrooms Look Like?
In appearance, destroying angels look quite similar to another toxic mushroom called the death cap. They are small white or cream-colored mushrooms with a slight yellowish tint, making them hard to distinguish from other mushrooms. In fact, they somewhat resemble button mushrooms that are generally available at your local grocery store.
Identifying Features of the Destroying Angel Mushroom
The list below summarizes some key destroying angel identification points of destroying angels so that you can avoid them.
- Scientific Name: Amanita virosa
- The Cap: The destroying angels have a cap diameter of 1 to 2.5 inches. This white cap is initially egg-shaped. With passing time, it turns bell-shaped or sometimes even flat-shaped.
- The Gills: Gills of destroying angels are white and crowded. They are free from the stem.
- The Stem: The stems are 2 to 5 inches tall and are often slightly curved. They have a delicate ring high up on the stipe. They are fibrous and pure white.
- The Spores: The spores are spherical, and the spore print is white.
- The Skirt: As this mushroom has a slight skirt with no ridges, it can be easily damaged.
- Volva: The volva of the destroying angel mushroom is large and spherical. It can be deep under the surface.
- Flesh: The flesh is pure white.
- Taste and Smell: The mature mushrooms can have an unpleasant smell. However, it’s best not to taste or smell this mushroom because of its toxic nature. Even brushing some on your lip or nose can make you sick.
- Habitat: Destroying angels are quite common in temperate regions. You can generally find them at the edge of mixed woodland.
- Season: July to November
- Possible Look-Alike: There are several different edible species that could be confused with destroying angels. A common one is the edible wood mushroom called Agaricus sylvicola. One way to differentiate them is that gills of destroying angels are typically white, whereas this wood mushroom has pink gills while young and brown when matured.
Again, make sure an experienced forager takes a look at any mushrooms that you pick before you eat them.
What Are the Symptoms of Ingesting a Destroying Angel Mushroom?
As said earlier, destroying angels contain amatoxins. Amatoxins are a complex group of poisonous substances that, when consumed, cause gastrointestinal disorders like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach aches.
If you consume destroying angels by mistake, you’ll start experiencing the above symptoms within five to twelve hours.
If you experience the above symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Time is of the essence, as the toxins will already be damaging your internal organs.
These symptoms will fade away after several hours or in a day or two. But remember, this is not a sign of recovery. In due course, the symptoms will return with a vengeance. At this time, it will be too late to reverse the damage that the toxins have done to your liver or kidneys.
As soon as you suspect eating a destroying angel mushroom, don’t wait. Rush to your emergency care center for the required treatment. This may save your life.
Once the second stage sets in, the only cure is usually a liver transplant, followed by a long, risky, and painful recovery.
How to Avoid Picking the Destroying Angel Mushrooms
First and foremost, if you are gathering mushrooms to cook, you must have the knowledge and expertise to identify and distinguish between edible and poisonous mushrooms.
As said earlier, destroying angels have been mistakenly picked up as edible Agaricus sylvicola, or wood peck mushroom. They look quite similar but destroying angels will have white gills, whereas wood peck mushrooms have brown gills.
Additionally, while destroying angel mushrooms are in their immature button stage, you can easily mistake them for common edible puffballs. An experienced forager can tell the difference, but you’ll only be able to identify once you have first-hand knowledge and expertise.
Gaining mastery in mushroom identification will eventually save you from picking up these toxic mushrooms.
How to Remove Destroying Angel Mushrooms from the Yard
If you suspect the growth of toxic mushrooms like the destroying angel in your backyard, it’s best to remove them. How to do that? First, wear gloves. This will help avoid the possibility of the mushroom pieces or residue from entering your mouth.
Once you’re ready with the gloves, try to remove the mushroom with your hand. Try your best to go as deep as you can – your aim should be to remove everything, including the mushroom’s root. Doing so will safeguard you and your family from any immediate threat.
Now, to keep the mushroom from growing back, dig out the rotting wood and root structure, if you see any, from the ground.
Lastly, apply a nitrogen-rich fertilizer to your entire lawn area. This will trigger the decomposition process and help in depriving the mushroom growth.
Remove these toxic mushrooms as soon as you suspect them to be in your backyard and protect your family, especially kids and pets, from picking them.
Mushroom hunting can be safe and fun — IF you know what you are doing. To get there, familiarize yourself with mushrooms. Poke around the foraging page of this website. Buy a good mushroom guide, and then join a local mushroom foraging club, like NAMA. In a few weeks, you’ll know what to look for and will be well on your way to becoming an experienced forager yourself.
For more information on foraging for wild mushrooms, see our article Mushroom Foraging — The Ultimate Guide.
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