15 October 2008
backyard mushroom / Amanita phalloides, the Destroying Angel
Amanita phalloides, popularly called the Destroying Angel, also called the Death Cap, is the wild mushroom -- actually toadstool -- thought to be the most poisonous of all fungi. Even if you eat it in the intensive care unit of the Mayo Clinic with a dozen experts hovering around your bed, there is no cure, you're dead of liver and kidney failure soon. The main toxin is the molecule a-amanitin.
One account (Agatha Christie) of such a death has it that after several days of severe illness, you suddenly feel better, healthy, just fine, a bit euphoric, happy, optimistic about the future. And then you die.
It happens often, because the Destroying Angel closely resembles a popular edible wild mushroom, the straw mushroom Volvariella volvacea. The Roman Emperor Claudius and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI are suspected to have died from eating the Destroying Angel.
Collecting edible mushrooms is or was a popular hobby in Europe, with hundreds of illustrated guidebooks, but it suffered a sudden loss of popularity after the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Correctly or otherwise, it was widely believed fungi would be the first plant to absorb radioactive isotope/nuclide fallout in dangerous concentrations. I don't know if the hobby has had a resurgence of popularity.