Plant of the Week
Death Angel, Destroying Angel
Latin: Amanita sp.
The heavy rains experienced across much of Arkansas in the last few weeks
should have the mushrooms popping up like toadstools, so the saying goes.
One of the most common of these is likely to be the mushroom given the
well-deserved and ominous names of Destroying Angel or Death Angel (Amanita
sp.). While biologists no longer consider fungi to be plants, assigning them
instead to their own kingdom, I will do a bit of fence jumping and bring them
into our general discussions.
The Death Angel is the large white mushroom that appears in late spring and
summer in the woods, in cleared fields or in home lawns wherever an adequate
supply of buried organic matter is found. By common usage, the inedible and
poisonous types are usually referred to as toadstools, but to mycologists they
are all mushrooms. Fungi such as the Death Angel are soil-inhabiting saprophytes
that make a living by enzymatically digesting plant debris.
When the filamentous strands (called the mycelium) have accumulated enough
food reserves and the environment is just right, one or more mushrooms will
appear suddenly. The Death Angel mushroom is usually 6 to 8inches tall with the
cap expanding to 5or 6inches in diameter. The color is whitish, sometimes tinged
with brown, sometimes with a bit of gray. The color changes as the mushroom
ages. Below the gills on the stout stem will be a filamentous skirt. If the
mushroom is dug, a golf ball-size mass of mycelium will be found at the base of
There are probably about six species of Amanita found in North America
and these are responsible for 95 percent of the cases of mushroom related
fatalities that occur in the United States. But, the number of actual fatalities
is really quite low. Between 1985 and 1996, 14 fatalities were reported in more
than 85,000 exposures. In 1991, the worst year during this period, three
fatalities were reported.
Children are the most susceptible because their smaller body weight results
in a higher dosage of the toxin.
The economic upheaval that beset Russia in the mid-1990's left much of the
population dependant on their small garden plots for the bulk of their food. Not
surprisingly, many Russians began to supplement their beets, cabbages and
potatoes with wild mushrooms. However, mushrooming expertise was sorely lacking
amongst many would-be hunters. In 1997, at least 34 people died from mushroom
poisoning. As economic conditions improved and the word spread, only seven
people died the next year.
The poison responsible for the fatalities is a pair of peptides called
amatoxins that work by inhibiting protein synthesis. Initial symptoms occur in
six to eight hours after eating the mushroom and begin with severe stomach
cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. These symptoms soon pass, but within 48 hours the
toxins begin doing extreme damage to the liver and kidney. In 1988 a Korean
immigrant living in Washington State accidentally fed her family Death Angel
mushrooms. The family survived, but four of the five had to undergo liver
Over the years I have gotten a surprising number of questions to help
determine if a particular mushroom is edible. I always decline the invitation.
While the number of fatalities is low and the Death Angels are relatively easy
to identify, I always urge caution.
Unless you collect mushrooms with someone who knows what they are doing, I
would limit my foraging to the local farmers market or grocery store. The old
adage, "There are old mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom
hunters" seems appropriate.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension News -
May 23, 2003
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.
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