Suspected Destroying Angel found in central Arizona

AMF reader Terry Stone discovered this white Amanita in Central Arizona recently. Britt Bunyard of FUNGI magazine thinks it may be A. bisporigera, the infamous Destroying Angel, or a closely related species.

Our mountains are now producing good quantities of edible species of Amanita such as the Caesar’s Amanita, A. caesarea/”cochiseana”; the Blusher, A. rubescens/novinupta; and the grisette, A. vaginata. These mushrooms can be reliably differentiated from the poisonous species, but they should be eaten ONLY by very experienced collectors. If you make a mistake and consume a Destroying Angel instead, your health and even your very life will be in grave danger.

[Ed. Note, 10/3/2014: Eminent amanitologist Debbie Viess has looked at this picture and informs us that this is in fact not a Destroying Angel. Instead, it appears to be a specimen of A. pantherina that has had rainfall wash off most of its usual warts. One of the photos indistinctly shows a few warts near the apex of the cap that did not wash off. The sun has bleached the cuticle, but even so, there is still a slight grayish tinge, whereas the Destroying Angels would show a more pure white coloration. The short, rolled, urn-like rim of the volva standing slightly away from the stipe just above the basal bulge is also characteristic of A. pantherina, whereas a true member of the Destroying Angel family would have a longer, floppier volva that might collapse onto the stipe. One would still bitterly regret eating this mushroom, but would keep their internal organs intact and likely survive for further adventures in ill-advised mycophagy.]

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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3 Responses to Suspected Destroying Angel found in central Arizona

  1. Bill Warner says:

    The same (apparently) Amanita was relatively common last year at a variety of locations in ponderosa pine habitats throughout central AZ (haven’t seen it this year). The annulus can be fragile and has a habit of partially to completely washing off in heavy rains, so be very careful of any white Amanita-like shrooms. I have a pic in my “Mushrooming Arizona for Beginners” talk that shows three white mushrooms, including this one, collected within the same two square yards (an edible Agaricus and Russula c.f. brevipes were the other two) as an illustration of why beginners should stay away from gilled mushrooms!

  2. Rob M says:

    Hey Bill! it was nicely synchronitic to make your acquaintance out in the wilds of graham moutains by chance encounter and again on the amc foray in the white mountains… small world isnt it? not surprising for mycophiles here in our limted arizona mushroom season eh?

    I’ve found plenty of ‘deadly’ and ‘edible’ amanita around the pinaleños. yes… they’re part of the landscape and anyone interested in collecting or foraging should be aware of their environment or they may succumb to it. with that said, i’ve yet to try anything remotely amanita.

    Amanita caesarea, a fairly distinctive mushroom might be on my list at some point as these are abundant and not much chance of a ‘look alike’ if you’re confident in identification.

    One of my concerns is hybridization. we’ve got an interesting bunch of mushrooms here in AZ. if you’ve ever found anything that ‘doesnt quite fit’, and i’m sure you have with any time in the field, then how likely are amanita genus to hybridize?

    i’m sure plenty of experienced foragers have been enjoying their local favorites for many years, but AZ seems to defy positive ID occasionally through one or two characteristics. the edibility test is a good start, but a teaspoon of amatoxin? no thanks.

    any amanitaphagists (if that is a term) care to chime in?

  3. Debbie Viess says:

    Hi Rob,
    We have had this very discussion in California, over whether or not our edible “coccora,” Amanita calyptroderma (in section Caesarea), was able to “breed” with the toxic Amanita pantherina (section Amanita). The issue came up when a woman at a Fungus Fair at the Oakland Museum of CA told me fifteen years ago that the Pomo Indians of CA avoided the dark brown capped versions of our familiar coccora for just that reason.

    But I could find no evidence that this was true. The two mushrooms, and many others that are so widely separated genetically, could not possibly breed or exchange DNA and toxins with each other. I suspect that the mushroom consuming Pomo were just giving themselves a broad margin of safety, a wise choice for any eater of amanitas!

    It is a fairly simple matter to learn how to recognize sections in the Genus Amanita. It is far more difficult to then get those mushrooms to species. However, at this point in time, there have been ZERO reports of any toxic examples, worldwide, in either section Vaginata (grisettes) or section Caesarea (your SW caesar, “cochiseana,” our coccora, the European Caesar, etc.). These are some of the very easiest mushrooms to identify, especially in their highly colored forms.

    WE do have some ambiguity here in CA around velosas (variable color) and the white forms of grisettes and caesars, but in those cases, it is probably best to just eschew any amanita that one can’t absolutely ID or that could even remotely be confused with our deadly amanitas. We have both phalloides and ocreata and maybe even a cryptic destroying angel or two here in CA.

    I hope to some day travel to your wonderful SW and try some of those beautiful Amanita “cochiseana” for myself!

    Debbie Viess
    Bay Area Mycological Society

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