Death cap mushrooms are responsible for most mushroom related deaths in the world. When foraging for wild mushrooms, it’s extremely important to correctly identify the edible mushrooms as well as the toxic ones. If you’re wondering how to identify a death cap mushroom, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we’ll discuss where death caps are typically found, how to identify them, and how to tell them apart from other similar looking mushrooms you might encounter.
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Where is the Death Cap Mushroom Found?
The highly poisonous death cap mushrooms are found in many regions throughout the world. They grow mostly near deciduous trees such as oaks and beeches, but also sometimes near evergreens such as spruce and pine.
Death caps have a symbiotic relationship with the trees but don’t grow from them directly; instead, they grow from the ground near the trees.
These mushrooms are native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, but they have also been introduced to North America and Australia where they are spreading rapidly. They are very prolific mushrooms that account for 90% of mushroom deaths worldwide.
According to Public Health Insider, symptoms of death cap poisoning typically begin within 6 to 24 hours of consumption and there is no antidote. If you’re getting into foraging mushrooms, you will definitely want to avoid death caps, so proper identification is key.
How to Recognize a Death Cap Mushroom?
The death cap usually has a greenish or yellowish cap. This is one of its distinctive features, as the death cap is one of only a few greenish colored mushrooms.
The cap is egg-like or dome-like when the mushroom is young and flattens as the mushroom ages. The underside of the cap has gills which are initially covered by a veil; as the cap flattens, this veil will break, leaving remnants on the gills and around the upper part of the stem.
The thick white stem’s most distinctive feature is the rounded volva at the bottom. This part of the stem can be easily broken off during foraging, leading to misidentification.
Death cap mushrooms begin as egg-shaped bulbs; their caps begin to unfold and veils break as they mature. These mushrooms sometimes grow in small clusters, but they often grow singularly as well.
Some death cap varieties are more white than green-tinted, these are especially hard to identify, so it’s important to use more than just their coloring when inspecting them. Always make sure the stem is intact and check for the volva, as this is probably the best way to identify a death cap.
For more identification tips, check out the video below:
How to Tell a Death Cap Mushroom Apart From the Rest
Death cap mushrooms look very similar to lots of other mushrooms, many of which are edible. Let’s talk about these look-alikes and how you can tell them apart from death caps.
Champignons, such as wood or field mushrooms, are edible mushrooms that look almost exactly like white death caps. They have only a few distinctive differences:
- Champignons do not have volvas.
- Champignons have pink-tinted gills, while death caps have pure white gills.
- Champignons typically have more rough or ragged-looking rims around their caps.
Always be extremely cautious when foraging champignons. Make sure you know exactly what you’re getting, and it might be best to avoid harvesting them when they’re young, before their gills have turned pink.
Paddy straw mushrooms are basically identical to death caps. There are only two ways to tell the edible paddy straws apart from the poisonous death caps:
- Spore print: Paddy straws have pink spore prints, while death caps have white spore prints. This will only be a distinguishing feature when the mushrooms are young.
- Habitat: Paddy straws grow in open fields, away from trees and wood, while death caps grow in wooded areas and are always found near trees.
It’s common for people who are traveling to mistake death caps for paddy straws, especially if they don’t have death caps growing in their home region. Always use extreme caution when foraging for mushrooms in an unfamiliar place.
Some people mistake death caps for russalas, but the two types of mushroom are fairly easy to tell apart if you know what you’re doing. The major differences between the death caps and russalas are:
- Russalas have wavy, semi-flat, depressed caps that are not usually perfectly round.
- Russalas have no volva.
- Russalas are typically much shorter than death caps and have wider, stouter stems.
As always, be careful when foraging for wild mushrooms, and don’t just go by the colors of the mushroom in question. If there is any doubt in your mind about what type of mushroom you’re harvesting, it’s best to err on the side of caution and leave it behind.
Caesar’s mushrooms are generally bright yellow or orange and easy to distinguish from mature death caps; but both mushrooms look nearly identical when in the egg stage.
If you’re harvesting young caesar’s mushrooms, it’s important to scrape away some of the outer white veil to look for the distinctive bright yellow underneath. Even lighter-colored caesar’s mushrooms will have yellow gills, while even dark yellow or green death caps will always have white gills and a white stem.
This type of mushroom is closely related to the death cap, but it doesn’t contain the same harmful toxins so it is edible. That said, it is nearly impossible to tell it apart from the white variety of death cap, so it’s best not to forage it at all.
Puffball mushrooms are white and can sometimes be confused with young death caps still in the egg stage. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to tell them apart:
- Puffballs feel spongy and elastic to the touch, while death caps have a more tough, leathery feel.
- Puffballs are usually covered in small bumps or spikes, while death caps are smooth.
- Puffballs are more bulbous and will not have any specific definition when you cut them in half. Death caps are also white inside, but you will clearly be able to see their cap, stem, and volva.
When in doubt, it’s best to leave the mushroom behind, but it shouldn’t take a lot of experience to be able to tell death caps and puffballs apart.
False Death Cap
False death caps look almost exactly like true death caps, and both should be avoided as they are both toxic.
The destroying angel is right up there with the death cap as being one of the most poisonous mushrooms in the world. It is in the same family as the death cap, contains the same toxins, and is nearly indistinguishable from the death cap.
Avoid both types of mushroom when foraging in the woods.
Death caps are highly toxic mushrooms that have many look-alikes in the wild. If you’re going to forage for mushrooms, make absolutely sure you know what you’re getting before eating any of them.