Poisonous Mushrooms

Caution: Eating wild mushrooms can kill you!

Know these three

If you collect mushrooms for the table, you should become familiar with the three most dangerous groups of fungi.

Mushrooms in these groups cause virtually all the fatal mushroom poisonings in the United States, with amanitas alone accounting for 90 percent of mushroom-related deaths.

Learning how to correctly identify any mushroom, and sticking to the rule to never eat any mushroom unless you’re 100 percent sure of its identification can keep you safe.

Things to know about mushroom poisoning

  • Symptoms of mushroom poisoning can be delayed for up to 12 hours, sometimes longer.
  • Symptoms of some poisonous mushrooms can seem to go away, but the toxin will remain in your system. Days later, you can get very sick. When trying a new mushroom, always keep a raw sample in the refrigerator.
  • Casual handling of poisonous mushrooms won’t hurt you (for instance if you’re collecting a specimen to examine later), but you can contaminate other mushrooms by carrying them in the same container. Keep different species wrapped separately in your basket or container.
  • Even known, popular edibles can cause an allergic reaction or sensitivity in some people, and there’s no way to know in advance. Eat a small amount (just two or three bites) of the cooked mushroom the first time you try it.
  • A significant number of mushroom poisonings occur when visitors or immigrants accidentally eat poisonous mushrooms that look similar to edible ones in their home regions or countries. Use local references to identify local species!
  • Learn mushrooms’ Latin names — common names can be confusing. In an emergency, accuracy matters. (There are at least six common names for Hericium erinaceus, a very good edible: lion's mane, bearded tooth, hedgehog, satyr's beard, bear’s paw, and pompom.)
  • There are no “antidotes” for mushroom poisoning. Hospitals can only try to treat the damage from the toxins.
Photo of a blusher, a tan gilled mushroom, showing injured spot turning rust red
Amanita spp. (about 600 species, worldwide)

This large group of mushrooms accounts for 90 percent of mushroom-related deaths, so every mushroom hunter should be familiar with amanitas. They contain one of the deadliest poisons found in nature!

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Gymnopilus junonius (formerly G. spectabilis)

Big laughing gym mushrooms are large, orangish yellow, and have a ring on the stalk. They grow in clusters on stumps and trunks of deciduous trees, on the ground, or over buried wood.

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Image of a false morel
Gyromitra caroliniana

The big red false morel is a poisonous mushroom. It has a reddish brown, convoluted, brainlike cap and a whitish stalk stuffed with cottony tissue. It grows singly or in groups in mixed woods.

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Photo of several deadly galerina mushroom caps, viewed from above.
Galerina marginata (G. autumnalis)

The deadly galerina has a brownish, sticky cap, yellowish to rusty gills, and a ring on the stalk. It grows scattered or clustered on deciduous and coniferous logs.

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Photo of destroying angel showing large saclike cup around the base of stalk
Amanita bisporigera

The destroying angel is all white, with a ring on the stalk and a large, saclike cup around the base of the stalk. This deadly poisonous mushroom is very common, growing on the ground in mixed woods and in grass near trees.

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Photo of emetic russula mushroom with red cap and whitish stalk
Russula emetica

The emetic russula has a uniformly red cap with off-white gills and stalk; its flesh and stalk are brittle. It grows singly or in groups, on moss and in mixed woods.

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Image of a false morel
Gyromitra spp. (false morels); Helvella spp. (elfin saddles)

This group of poisonous mushrooms includes species that are commonly confused with the delectable morels. Before you go mushroom hunting, learn how to tell the difference between these fungi and the truly edible morels.

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Photo of gabled false morel, a floppy, orange club fungus
Gyromitra brunnea

The gabled false morel has a reddish brown, lobed, wrinkled cap and a whitish stalk stuffed with cottony tissue. It grows singly or in groups in mixed woods.

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caucasian hand holding white, umbrella-shaped mushroom
Chlorophyllum molybdites

Green-spored lepiotas are large, white, with broad, cream-colored scales on the cap, white gills that turn gray-green, and a ring on the stalk. They grow in lawns and meadows, often in a circular arrangement called a "fairy ring."

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jack-o-lantern mushroom
Omphalotus illudens (formerly O. olearius)

Jack-o’-lanterns are bright orange to yellowish orange, with sharp-edged gills that descend the stalk. They grow in clusters, at the base of stumps, and from buried roots of oak and other deciduous wood.

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