Mushrooms present danger this season

Seth Gin Practicum News Contributor

Corvallis’ environment ideal for mushroom growth, foraging season

Spring has arrived, and although the rainy season has not completely yet left, sunny days are no longer a distant fantasy for Oregonians. The occasional bit of sunshine ushers in tank tops and good cheer, but also mushrooms.

Corvallis’ unique environment makes it an ideal location for a diverse array of mushrooms, many of which people find tasty. Mushroom foragers have already begun the hunt this season, looking to fill their paper bags with a bounty of morels and other fungi.

“After a rainstorm when it is sunny, mushrooms come out” said Genevieve Weber, a mycologist at Oregon State University. Summers are too dry and winters often too wet, but morel mushrooms begin to appear early in the Spring, Weber said. “Chantrelles and hedgehog mushrooms come out mid to late fall.”

Mushroom foraging is not all morels and chanterelles, however. Oregon is also home to countless less-than-edible fungi.

The genus Amanita, for example, contains the Mario-esque Amanita muscaria—a white-spotted red mushroom known for it’s intense hallucinations and considerable nausea-inducing capacity.

“You won’t have a good time with it” Weber said. Other infamous mushrooms in the Amanita genus include the highly toxic death cap, and the aptly-named “destroying angel”, both of which cause excruciating pain and large scale organ failure that ultimately end in death unless several major organ transplant procedures can be done quickly, according to Weber.

There are several edible mushrooms within the Amanitas, but experts strongly caution against it.

“I’ve been tempted, but still don’t.” Weber said, regarding edible Amanitas.

Plant pathologist Bailey Williams seconds that notion.

“I wouldn’t forage for anything that wasn’t distinctive” she said.

Mushrooms such as morels and chanterelles are very distinctive, and their poisonous false counterparts, the false-morel and false-chanterelle are only mildly poisonous, Williams said.

Beyond the realm of culinary mushrooms and toxic mushrooms is the category of recreational fungus—psychedelic mushrooms, several mushrooms within the genus psilocybe. Psilocybin, or magic mushrooms are non-descript looking brown mushrooms that give powerful “trips”. The genus is large, and many other poisonous mushrooms look very much like them. Most magic mushrooms are grown in labs with spores rather than foraged for, because of the substantial risk of misidentification.

Alayna Engle, a local botanist explained there are dangers of magic mushroom look-a-likes.

“Immature Cortinarius rubellus a.k.a deadly webcaps, look just like Psilocybe semilanceata a.k.a magic mushrooms, but rather than a nice trip, it’ll straight up murder you with renal failure, and it’ll be drawn out over a couple of weeks.”

The Amanite muscaria is also sometimes lumped in with magic mushrooms, but it’s hallucinations are most often described negatively, or as Engle described it, “intense bouts of mortal terror”.

Weber recalled an urgent call from the hospital to a coworker trying to identify a mushroom that had a delirious patient crying and vomiting, trapped in a nightmarish hallucination—it was Amanita muscaria.

Mushroom season offers a bounty of delicious fungi to forage for, but all the experts agree, forage with well trained people, hunt for easily identifiable mushrooms, and when in doubt, don’t eat it.

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