Caesar’s amanitas are popping on the White Mountain Apache reservation

A drive last Sunday along Highway 260 from Sunrise to Pinetop showed numerous newly emerged Caesar’s Amanitas.

In Europe, this favorite food of the Roman Emperors is called Amanita caesarea. Large quantities are sold in the markets of Italy and Spain in season, typically for $50 per pound or more. Our nearly identical North American species can be picked by the side of the road for free. This is the only member of the infamous Amanita genus, if any, that most local mushroom hunters would dare to eat. By most accounts it is of lesser culinary renown than the European variety, but it is definitely a favorite of some Arizona foragers.

(Update) The American Caesar’s amanitas are the subject of some taxonomic ambiguity. Those in the Southwest USA are considered a subspecies of the true A. caesarea by Dr. Chet Leathers, the president of the Arizona Mushroom Club. However, this local favorite has also been provisionally designated A. “cochiseana” by some Amanita experts. Other similar species in the East and South are called A. jacksonii, A. arkansa, and A. hemibapha, among others.

These mushrooms were found growing on the White Mountain Apache reservation. You need to buy a recreation permit from the Indians if you want to go mushroom picking in their vast, mountainous homeland. I have been informed by the tribal fish and game department that mushroom picking is NOT allowed, even with the recreational permit they sell. There is at present no way that a non-tribal member is legally able to collect mushrooms on the reservation.

Note the large, thick white volva, protruding free of the stipe, and still patchily adherent to universal veil remnants on the pileus on young specimens; the shiny yellow-orange pileal cuticle, smooth except for vertical striations at the margin; the buttery yellow, free lamellae; and the hollow stipe, light yellow on the surface and white inside. This combination of conspicuous and distinctive features does not occur with any unsafe Amanita species. The gills on younger specimens are covered with a cottony yellow-orange partial veil, as shown in close-up, that will detach from the periphery of the pileus as the mushroom matures, and become a skirt-like annulus on the upper part of the stipe.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This mushroom is an Amanita, a genus which is responsible for over 50% of mushroom poisonings and over 90% of deaths from mushroom poisoning worldwide. If you cannot distinguish this edible mushroom from a Death Cap (A. phalloides), Fly Agaric (A. muscaria), or Destroying Angel (A. ocreata) as easily as a 5 year old child can tell a frog from a rattlesnake, you have no business eating a single bite of it.

About Christopher May

Chris is a radiologist in private practice in Scottsdale. He is married to Barbara May, with two grown children, Megan and Nick.
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