Death cap (Amanita phalloides)

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Death cap
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Death cap fact file

Death cap description

KingdomFungi
PhylumBasidiomycota
ClassBasidiomycetes
OrderAgaricales
FamilyAmanitaceae
GenusAmanita (1)

This is one of the most poisonous European toadstools (3). All parts of the fungus are deadly, and it should never be eaten (4). The cap is typically yellowish to olivaceous green, sometimes paling almost to white, usually with darker streaks radiating outwards (3) (4) (5). It is convex at first, but becomes flattened as it ages, and may develop a sickly sweet smell (2) (5). The gills underneath the cap are white, and the white stem has a distinct ring, although this may become damaged or lost (3) (4). The base of the stem bulges into a 'bulb', which is covered by a white sheath known as a volva (2).

WARNING: Many species of fungus are poisonous or contain chemicals that can cause sickness. Never pick and eat any species of fungus that you cannot positively recognise or are unsure about. Some species are deadly poisonous and can cause death within a few hours if swallowed.

Size
Stem (stipe) height: 7 - 12 cm (2)
Cap diameter: 6 - 12 cm (2)
Stem (stipe) diameter: 1 - 1.5 cm (2)
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Death cap biology

Fungi are neither plants nor animals but belong to their own kingdom. They are unable to produce their own food through the process of photosynthesis, as plants do; instead they acquire nutrients from living or dead plants, animals, or other fungi, as animals do. In many larger fungi (lichens excepted) the only visible parts are the fruit bodies, which arise from a largely unseen network of threads called 'hyphae'. These hyphae permeate the fungus's food source, which may be soil, leaf litter, rotten wood, dung, and so on, depending on the species (5).

The death cap grows either singly or in groups, and typically occurs between July and October in Europe and North America, and from March to July in South Africa (4). This deadly species contains two types of toxins. The effects of consuming even small amounts include initial dehydration, nausea and vomiting, followed (up to three days later) by severe kidney and liver damage, resulting ultimately in coma and death. There is no specific antidote for cases of poisoning, and treatment, if delayed, may require liver transplantation (6).

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Death cap range

Found throughout much of Europe, where its status is variable, but is more common towards the south. It occurs in New Zealand, and also North America and South Africa, with oak trees imported from Europe (4).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Death cap habitat

This fungus grows in deciduous woodlands, particularly under beech and oak trees, and shows a slight preference for acidic soils (4) (5). In mountainous areas it occurs in coniferous forests, and is also found in pastures on the edge of woodlands (4).

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Death cap status

The status of this widespread species is variable in Europe (2).

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Death cap threats

This species is not threatened.

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Death cap conservation

Conservation action has not been targeted at this species.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Find out more

For information on the conservation of waxcaps visit the waxcap website
http://www.aber.ac.uk/waxcap/index.shtml

For more information about the conservation of fungi worldwide
http://www.euromould.org/links/conserva.htm

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Authentication

Information authenticated by Dr Peter Roberts of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew:
http://rbgkew.org.uk

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Glossary

Fruit bodies
In fungi, the fruit body is the visible part of the fungus which bears spores (microscopic particles involved in both dispersal and reproduction).
Photosynthesis
Metabolic process characteristic of plants in which carbon dioxide is broken down, using energy from sunlight absorbed by the green pigment chlorophyll. Organic compounds are made and oxygen is given off as a by-product.
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References

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January, 2003)
    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
  2. Jordan, M. (1995) The Encyclopedia of Fungi of Britain and Europe. David and Charles, Devon.
  3. Roberts, P. (2007) Pers. comm.
  4. Dickinson, C. and Lucas, J. (1979) The Encyclopedia of Mushrooms. Orbis Publishing, London.
  5. Courtecusse, R. (1999) Mushrooms of Britain and Europe. Harper Collins Publishers, London.
  6. Cooper, M.R. and Johnson, A.W. (1998) Poisonous Plants and Fungi in Britain. Second Edition. The Stationary Office, London.
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Image credit

Death cap  
Death cap

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