New Zealand is home to a diverse range of mushrooms, but not all of them are safe to eat. Eating poisonous mushrooms can cause severe illness and even death. This guide aims to help you identify and avoid some of the most dangerous mushrooms found in New Zealand.
Anatomy of a Mushroom
To be able to accurately identify poisonous mushrooms, it’s important to understand their anatomy. Mushrooms are part of the fungi kingdom and consist of a stalk, cap, and gills or pores. The gills or pores underneath the cap contain tiny spores, which are used for reproduction. The fruiting body of the mushroom is what we typically see and collect, but it is actually just a small part of a larger organism that lives in the soil or on decaying material.
Common Poisonous Mushrooms in New Zealand
There are several types of poisonous mushrooms commonly found in New Zealand, and they can be divided into two main categories: those causing gastrointestinal symptoms and those causing neurological symptoms.
Gastrointestinal Toxin-Containing Mushrooms
- Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric): This brightly colored red and white mushroom is perhaps the most iconic and easily recognizable. It contains ibotenic acid and muscimol, which can cause hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Amanita pantherina (Panther Cap): Similar in appearance to the Fly Agaric, the Panther Cap is brown with white spots. It also contains ibotenic acid and muscimol, leading to similar symptoms as the Fly Agaric.
- Clitocybe dealbata (Angel’s Wings): These small, white, fan-shaped mushrooms contain the toxin muscarine, which can lead to excessive salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Neurological Toxin-Containing Mushrooms
- Amanita phalloides (Death Cap): This highly deadly mushroom is responsible for the majority of mushroom poisoning fatalities worldwide. It is pale greenish-yellow with a smooth cap and white gills. It contains amatoxins, which can cause severe liver and kidney failure.
- Cortinarius species (Webcaps): There are several toxic species within this genus, mostly containing the toxin orellanine. These mushrooms are brown or orange-brown with a cap that often has a rusty appearance. Orellanine can cause kidney failure a few days after ingestion.
- Galerina marginata (Deadly Galerina): This small, brown-capped mushroom is often found on decaying wood and contains the same deadly amatoxins found in the Death Cap. It can cause severe liver and kidney failure.
Tips for Avoiding Poisonous Mushrooms
When foraging for mushrooms, it’s important to take a few precautions to avoid accidentally consuming poisonous varieties:
- Learn to accurately identify both safe and poisonous mushrooms, and be aware of look-alikes.
- Use a field guide or seek advice from a knowledgeable local expert.
- Be cautious and if in doubt, leave it out – it’s better to miss out on a tasty meal than risk your health.
- Remember that cooking, peeling, or other methods of preparation will not remove toxic elements from poisonous mushrooms.
New Zealand’s rich and varied ecosystem offers numerous opportunities for mushroom enthusiasts, but it’s essential to be aware of the risks associated with poisonous species. Be sure to educate yourself on the various toxic mushrooms, and when in doubt, seek expert advice to avoid any potential dangers.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What should I do if I think I have consumed a poisonous mushroom?
If you believe you have consumed a poisonous mushroom, seek medical attention immediately. Provide any available information about the mushroom, including a description, photographs, or ideally, a sample of the mushroom in question.
Can I safely consume a small amount of a poisonous mushroom?
No, it is not safe to consume even a small amount of a poisonous mushroom, as the toxins can still cause severe illness or even death. Avoid consuming any mushroom unless you are certain it is safe.
Are there any safe mushrooms that resemble poisonous ones?
Yes, there are often look-alike species that can be mistaken for poisonous mushrooms or vice versa. It’s important to accurately identify mushrooms and seek expert advice if you are unsure.