Santa Cruz Good Times

Saturday
Mar 28th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Foragers Take Note

news_AmanitaphalloidesDeath cap mushrooms made an early appearance in Santa Cruz

Nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea, followed by a brief period of improved health, and then, without treatment, comes liver damage, kidney failure, coma and death.

These symptoms sound like a Pepto-Bismol commercial gone awry. Instead they are the reality of consuming Amanita phalloides, otherwise known as the Death Cap, one of the most dangerous mushrooms found in Santa Cruz County. The Aptos family of six that suffered the death of one and poisoning of five of their members from the consumption of Death Caps in 2007 is still in recent memory. Every year, an average of between six and eight people are seriously poisoned by wild mushrooms they collect and consume in Northern California.

 

Death Caps generally appear in the Santa Cruz and Bay areas at large in the heart of fall and earlier in winter, during the rainy season. But, this year, they’ve been popping up outside of their usual season.

“It’s surprising to see them at all in the summer time, normally they would start two to four weeks after the first rain, usually early in the fall,” says Phillip Carpenter, CEO of the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz. Carpenter first saw the Death Cap scattered sparsely on the grounds of his home in Aptos in mid-July.

“When I first started seeing them come up, there were quite a few people, other foragers, from all over the place who said they saw them as well, so they are scattered about the county,” warns Carpenter.

In a normal season, the Death Cap can be incredibly abundant. “There have been years where I have seen the ground covered with Amanita phalloides,” says Carpenter. Its out of season scarcity may have some hand in misidentifications of the deadly fungi.

However, Carpenter says the Death Cap’s early appearance on the mushroom scene isn’t all that strange considering this year’s weather. “This year … it’s because of the really late rains and there’s a lot of residual moisture in the ground, that we can see them even now,” he says. “We don’t generally expect any moisture this time of the year, but that’s because rains don’t typically come until March or April, and this last year we had rains in June.”

Death Caps are typically found in damp areas where there is a lot of shade—“under an oak tree with some heavy canopy, for example,” says Carpenter. Although mushrooms do generally have a regular season for when they come up, those patterns are not set in stone.

Death Caps are mainly found on coast live oaks, although they can also be found on other types of trees including pines and tanoaks. According to Carpenter, foragers should keep their eyes peeled for the following characteristics: a moderately large mushroom (generally two to five inches across); a smooth yellow/greenish/brownish/white colored cap (a tell-tale sign, he says); white gills (on the underside of the cap) and stem; and a stem ending in a particularly bulbous base that is covered by a membranous sac.

Although these defining characteristics can be helpful, Carpenter stresses that foragers who are not 100 percent sure of the kind of mushroom they have picked should check in with an expert, like any of the folks at the Fungus Federation. Their hotline for the latest information on forays, events, local happenings and assistance identifying is 684-2275.

“I would much rather help someone out beforehand than visit them in the hospital afterwards,” says Carpenter. “Why would you possibly take a risk when it’s so easy to get an identification? You can call the hotline, or we encourage people to bring in their samples. While the Death Cap is very serious, there are many other mushrooms that will make you sick. They may not be deadly, but my gosh, why would you want to hug the toilet for a couple hours?”

For Mikey Cohen, a local mushroom forager and four-year instructor of a mushroom foraging class through the Santa Cruz Free Skool, the Death Cap isn’t much of an issue as long as there is proper awareness. “I think that there is a lot of fear—it can be a very pervasive thought that you could get killed by a mushroom,” Cohen says. “However, once you have a basic understanding of mushrooms and know a Death Cap, you can tell the difference between that and a delicious mushroom. It’s as easy as knowing the key characteristics.”

Comments (1)Add Comment
...
written by Concerned Santa Cruzan, September 20, 2011
The picture you posted is not an amanita phalloides. It is an amanita muscaria, a different mushroom. GT Responds: Thank you for the notice, we obviously don't know our mushrooms here in the newsroom. Image has been replaced with the correct fungi.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Best of Santa Cruz 2015

In 40 years of publishing, Good Times has seen a lot of “bests.”

 

Spring Triangle: Three Spring Festivals—Aries, Taurus, Gemini

The Spring signs Aries, Taurus and Gemini constitute a triangle of force that sets the template for the nine signs that follow and the template for the entire year (Spring 2015 - Spring 2016) ahead. Aries initiates new ideas, Taurus stabilizes the new thinking of Aries and Gemini takes the initiating stabilized ideas of Aries/Taurus and disperses them to all of humanity. It is in this way that humanity learns new things, with the help of Mercury, the messenger. As Spring unfolds, three elements emerge: the Fire of Aries (initiating new ideas), the Earth of Taurus (anchoring the ideas of God through Mercury) and the Air of communicating Gemini. These three signs/elements are the Three Spring Festivals. They are the “triangle of force” forming the template (patterns) of energy for the upcoming new year. After these three we then have the soothing, calming, warming, nurturing and tending waters of the mother (Cancer). Cancer initiates our next season under the hot suns of summer. Planets, stars and signs create the Temple of Light directing humanity towards all things new. March 29 is Palm Sunday, when the Christ, World Teacher, was led into Jerusalem (City of Peace) on a donkey (humility). Palms waving above His head, signified recognition of the Christ’s divinity. Palm Sunday is the Sunday before the Easter (Resurrection Festival). Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, the week of capture, imprisonment, passion, sacrifice, crucifixion, death and resurrection of the christ. All events in the Christ’s life represent events (initiations) that humanity experiences through many lifetimes. We turn our attention to these holy events this week. Their concepts portray and reveal to us greater spiritual understanding. Then, Aries, the “light of life itself” shines through us.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Best of Santa Cruz 2015 Editor's Picks

BEST NIGHT CAP WARSAW MULE AT SHADOWBROOK
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Spring Spirits

Sean Venus’ gin straight up, remembering Rosa’s and a tasting of Hungarian wines

 

What’s your favorite most recent outdoor discovery in Santa Cruz?

A hike that’s across from Waddell Beach. I didn’t realize you could go across the highway and do a super simple loop, and it’s beautiful. You can see the coastline. Liz Porter, Santa Cruz, Community Outreach

 

Martin Ranch Winery

Muscat 2012

 

Front Street Kitchen

Pop-up spot attracts paleo crowd with locally sourced low-carb meals