Whether you’re new to mushroom foraging or have been doing it for years, you may have heard that the death cap mushroom is one to avoid at all cost. Known for its ability to cause organ failure and death, the death cap is not something you ever want to eat; the problem is, it looks quite similar to a variety of edible mushrooms. One such mushroom is the parasol. In this article, we’ll compare the parasol mushroom vs. the death cap to help you identify their similarities and differences.
What You'll Learn Today
What is a Parasol Mushroom?
A parasol mushroom is an edible mushroom with many inedible lookalikes. It is commonly found throughout Europe and is thought to exist in North America as well, though it is not as well identified in North America and is frequently confused with other mushrooms.
The parasol mushroom is large but has the classic mushroom appearance–a tall stem with a wide, umbrella-like cap. These mushrooms tend to grow singly or in small clusters, and they can grow up to a foot in diameter.
Parasols are generally white to beige in color, with brown “shingles” or “scales” on the caps. The caps are egg-shaped when young, eventually flattening out as the mushrooms mature.
Parasol mushrooms have a distinctive dark bump in the center of the cap that doesn’t flatten out as the mushroom grows. The stem is beige to brownish with a snakeskin appearance, with a detached ring that can be moved freely up and down the stem.
Parasols commonly grow in open fields and seem to prefer less-than-ideal soil conditions.
These mushrooms are edible and delicious, provided they are correctly identified. They have a fairly strong aroma which some people compare to warm milk and others compare to maple syrup.
Most agree that the flavor is strongly reminiscent of maple syrup.
Check out this video to learn more about identifying the parasol mushrooms:
Not to be Confused with the False Parasol
One of the most common lookalikes of the parasol mushroom is the false parasol mushroom, sometimes referred to as the green-spored parasol. According to the University of Florida, the false parasol causes more mushroom poisonings in the United States than any other mushroom.
The false parasol is not necessarily deadly, but it can cause serious digestive upset leading to vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Though it looks quite similar to the edible parasol mushroom, it does have some distinctive differences.
Most notably, the gills of a false parasol are darker than those of a true parasol–typically brown, beige, or pinkish. They produce green spores, whereas a true parasol produces white spores; so a simple spore print test should help you distinguish these similar looking mushrooms.
What’s more, the false parasol’s ring is attached, so it doesn’t move up and down the stem. The false parasol also lacks the dark bump on top of the cap.
What is a Death Cap Mushroom?
The death cap is one of the most deadly mushrooms in the world, as it is considered responsible for more mushroom deaths than any other single mushroom variety.
This mushroom is native to Europe and North Africa, but it has been introduced to many other parts of the world, including North America, Australia, and parts of South America. It is a hardy, adaptable mushroom, considered by some to be parasitic.
The death cap produces a poison known as amatoxin. This poison works slowly over several days, initially causing digestive upset and eventually leading to major organ failure and death.
Though it is extremely deadly, it may appear fairly harmless. It is a classically-shaped mushroom with a long stem and an umbrella-shaped cap that flattens out over time.
The mushrooms start out looking like eggs that emerge from the ground. They commonly grow near hardwood trees but may be found in open grassy areas as well.
The caps are generally smooth and may be sticky. They tend to be greenish to bronze in color, though they may also be white or brown.
Death caps have a white spore print, white to beige gills, and a white to beige stem. They are most commonly found growing in late summer through late fall, which is the same season when parasol mushrooms fruit.
Check out this video to learn to identify death cap mushrooms:
Parasol Vs. Death Cap: How to Tell the Difference
- Consider the size: One of the most obvious differences between death caps and parasol mushrooms is the size. Parasol mushrooms typically grow much larger than death caps, which rarely exceed 5 or 6 inches in diameter.
Of course, it can be difficult to tell a difference based on size alone, as young parasols may be quite similar in size to mature death caps.
- Check the caps: The caps of parasol mushrooms have a ragged, rough appearance, with patches of darker-colored scales and the brown knob or nipple in the middle. Death cap mushrooms have smooth caps that are slightly stickly, and they tend to be more bronze or greenish in color.
- Check the stem: The stem of the parasol mushroom has a snakeskin-like appearance and texture and is generally brown. The stem of a death cap is usually white or beige, and it will be smooth and untextured.
Also, as noted, the ring of a parasol mushroom can slide easily up and down the stem. The ring on a death cap is attached to the stem and will break easily if you try to slide it around.
- Check the base: The stem of a parasol will appear more white at the base, but the base will not be much thicker than the rest of the stem. Death caps emerge from a distinctive volva, which remains as a distinctively thick, egg-shaped membrane around the base of the mushroom.
- Consider the habitat: Though parasols and death caps sometimes share habitats, they usually grow in different places. Parasols seem to prefer open grasslands, while death caps most commonly grow from the ground near hardwood trees.
- Smell them: Parasols have been said to have a strong but mild aroma, similar to warm milk or maple syrup. On the other hand, death caps may smell like honey, potatoes, ammonia, or may have no aroma at all.
- Have them professionally identified: If in doubt, it’s always best to play it safe. If you’re not completely sure of a mushroom’s identification, have it checked by a professional (or at least a more experienced mushroom hunter) before eating it.
The edible parasol mushroom has some similarities with the toxic death cap mushroom, but the good news is that they have many differences to help you tell them apart.
Remember though, if in doubt, it’s safer not to eat it; have any suspicious mushrooms checked by a professional, or simply discard them without eating them.