Friday, September 17, 2004
When and where found: This mushroom was on the town green just in front of the sign for the First Religious Society and quite close to the road. You could easily see it from your car for most of last week as it was standing tall, several inches above the grass. It finally fell over on September 13. Amanita pantherina usually turns up in the fall but has been seen occasionally in spring.
Distinguishing characteristics: Amanitas have a "universal veil" — a membrane which completely encloses the young mushroom. As the mushroom grows it breaks through the veil often leaving some bits on the top of the cap, and a cup-like sac called a volva at the base of the stalk. In Amanita pantherina the cap is covered with warty pieces of the universal veil — sometimes in concentric circles. The edges of the volva are often rolled against the stalk, or sometimes — as with this specimen — they show up as concentric bands. Many Amanitas also have a "partial veil" — a membrane which covers the gills of the young mushroom. As the gills expand, the partial veil breaks, drops down, and sometimes remains as a kind of skirt or ring around the stalk. In Amanita pantherina the partial veil is quite persistent. It can be seen in the photo even though the mushroom was several days old and the usually convex cap had flattened out and started to curl up. The color of the cap is not a good diagnostic — it could be various shades of brown, tan, yellowish, or off-white. The margin of the cap is marked by short lines, almost parallel. The gills are whitish and free — meaning that they are not attached to the stalk. The spore print is white. Amanita pantherina is one of the largest Amanitas found in the Northeast. The caps can reach ten inches in diameter. This one was about seven inches across and the total height of cap and stalk was about nine to ten inches.
Identifying mushrooms: The shape, style, and presence or absence of a volva are important characteristics for distinguishing Amanitas from other mushrooms. If you are learning to identify mushrooms, take a knife and cut into the ground around the base of the stalk far enough to get the whole mushroom. This doesn't damage the fungus. The mushroom is the fruiting body of the fungus. It is analogous to picking an apple. Young mushrooms will show different characteristics from mature ones — so if you have only a single specimen it can be difficult. Also, the weather is a factor. The spots on the cap of the panther can be washed off by rain.
Panthers are dangerous: Amanitas are responsible for 90% of mushroom-caused fatalities. This one is extremely poisonous. It contains the toxins ibotenic acid and muscimol. Other Amanita species like the Destroying Angel (Amanita virosa) are deadly and yet others like Caesar's mushroom (Amanita caesarea) are not only edible but reputed to be delicious. The price for making a mistake is high — it could be your last mistake. If you're feeling lucky, go to Foxwoods.
Reference: Gary H. Lincoff, National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms; Alan Bessette, Arleen Bessette, and David Fischer, Mushrooms of Northeast North America; David Arora, Mushrooms Demystified.
Submissions and ideas for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged on any wildlife in town. Send a note to Kay Fairweather at 392 School Street, Carlisle MA 01741 or to email@example.com
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito