Wild Mushrooms and Poisoning

GPIN-004 and VGIN-012
Larry F. Grand, Department of Plant Pathology


Due to the wide variety of climates, soils and plant communities, North Carolina has within its boundaries one of the greatest diversity of species of mushrooms and related fungi of any state in the U.S. Mushrooms are found in lawns, pastures, forests, mulch of all types, on stumps, living trees and in such unusual locations as basements, plaster board walls and flower pots in houses and shopping centers. Most mushrooms occur from Spring to Fall after rains; although they may be found all year if temperature and moisture are not limiting.

Although some 98% of all mushrooms are not poisonous and only about 1% of the inquiries involve dangerous species, the common appearance of mushrooms in lawns and landscapes after significant rain can pose a potential hazard if eaten, without verification of edibility. Of special concern is the ingestion by inexperienced collectors and likelihood of small children eating mushrooms that occur commonly in yards and natural areas. Wild mushrooms should not be eaten unless a responsible person recognizes them as safe. There is no place for "experimentation". There are no antidotes for poisonous mushrooms.
The increased usage of leaf and woodchip mulch in home landscapes has provided a greater opportunity for small children to come in contact with mushrooms.

Mushroom poisoning can vary from a minor upset stomach to a rather painful protracted death, depending upon the species of mushroom eaten, the amount eaten, and the person who has eaten it. Onset of symptoms may be delayed a day or more after ingestion. Some mushrooms are hallucinogenic. Small children, older people (65+), and people with existing medical problems are most vulnerable to one or more of the various toxins produced by poisonous mushrooms.



Figure 1. Amanita virosa, commonly known as Death Angel.



Figure 2. Galerina autumnalis (courtesy of Larry Grand).
Although most poisonous mushrooms must be eaten in some quantity (a cup or more) to cause serious problems, North Carolina is home to several species that potentially could cause death if only a single mushroom is eaten, such as the destroying angel, Amanita virosa and the deadly Galerina, Galerina autumnalis (Figures 1 and 2). Some mushrooms, nontoxic under normal conditions, will have a toxic reaction if consumed with alcohol. Some persons may be allergic to certain types of edible mushrooms.

There is no safe rule-of-thumb to differentiate a poisonous from an edible mushroom. Color of the mushroom is useless. Some of the deadliest are white. Common folklore such as:
1. A clove of garlic or a silver object turns black when cooked with a poisonous mushroom; 2. Removal of the "skin" from the cap of a poisonous mushroom will make it edible; 3. Mushrooms that animals eat are safe for humans, have no basis in fact and should be ignored.

Steps to follow if it is suspected a person has eaten an unidentified mushroom:

1. Do not panic. Although most mushrooms are not poisonous, every case of eating an unknown mushroom should be taken seriously. Onset of symptoms may be delayed a day or more.

2. Call your doctor and follow instructions or go to the emergency room of a hospital. If this is not possible, induce vomiting if there are to be any delays, over twenty minutes. Many pediatricians, and the Boston Children's Medical Center Child Health Encyclopedia (1975), recommend that parents keep emetics (Ipecac) on hand for such emergency cases of poisoning.

3. Collect as many of the kind of mushroom that was eaten as possible. Be sure to collect all of the mushroom including the base that may be buried in the ground. Place them in a paper bag (not a plastic bag!) or cup, small box, or roll them up in waxed paper. Avoid crushing.

4. If the person has vomited, collect all vomited material and store in the refrigerator until it can be taken to the doctor or appropriate person for identification.

5. If necessary, the mushroom in question can be identified in the departments of Plant Pathology or Botany at North Carolina State University, and the specimens also may be brought to the Plant Disease and Insect Clinic at NCSU. Because mushrooms are highly perishable, samples should not be sent through the mail. Identification of mushrooms over the phone is impossible. See addendum listing of persons who can identify mushrooms in emergencies only.

6. A good reference on the subject is the Handbook of Mushroom Poisoning: Diagnosis and Treatment. D. G. Spoerke and B. H. Rumack, eds. 1994. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. 456 pp. Another source of information for North Carolina and part of South Carolina is the Carolina Poison Center 1-800-848-6946.

Addendum

The following mycologists may be able to identify mushrooms. They should be contacted only in cases of emergencies.

Carolinas Poison Control Center
1-800-222-1222

Dr. C. Gerald Van Dyke
Department of Botany
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7612
Work 919.515.2222
Dr. Larry F. Grand
Department of Plant Pathology
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7616
Work 919.515.2667
Home 919.787.6152
Dr. Charles E. Bland
Department of Biology
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC 27834
Work 252.328.-1831
Home 252.756.8794

Poisonous Mushrooms of North Carolina (note: this is not a comprehensive list. The links connect to profiles on the Poisonous Plants of North Carolina homepage)

Amanita chlorinosma Galerina autumnalis
Amanita flavoconia Leucocoprinus birnbaumii
Amanita gemmata Naematoloma fasiculare
Amanita muscaria Omphalotus olearius
Amanita polypyramis Paxillus involutus
Amanita virosa Scleroderma aurantium
Chlorophyllum molybdites Scleroderma geaster

Other Resources

Poisonous Plants of North Carolina

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Published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are offered to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. North Carolina State University at Raleigh, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.

Web page last updated November 2005