Death cap mushroom poisonings are on the rise—here are some tips for foragers

death cap mushroom

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control issued a warning about poisonous mushrooms this summer, after receiving about twice as many calls as usual regarding poisonings. Unfortunately, poisonings have continued, and officials are particularly worried about exposure to the death cap mushroom, one of the deadliest mushrooms in the world.

Just last week, a three-year-old was killed after eating one of the mushrooms in Victoria. The boy and his family had been mushroom-picking when he ate the death cap. His family made information about his death public to warn others and urge them to educate themselves about poisonous mushrooms.

The death cap is an invasive species from Europe, and it was first seen in B.C. in 1997. However, recently, sightings of the deadly mushroom have gone way up. It has been reported in over 70 locations, including in Victoria, Vancouver, and the Fraser Valley.

There are several varieties of poisonous mushrooms in Canada besides the death camp, and mushroom foragers are being warned to educate themselves about poisonous mushrooms before ingesting any.

Here are some tips to help avoid poisonous mushrooms, particularly the death cap, during foraging:

If you are not sure what a mushroom is, do not eat it

Never eat something unless you are completely certain that it is a non-poisonous mushroom.

If you’re new to foraging, bring an expert with you

An experienced forager can show you what to look for and what to avoid.

Eat small amounts of mushrooms

At first, just taste the mushrooms you have foraged, and wait to see if you experience any ill effects.

Know how to recognize a death cap mushroom

The death cap looks like Asia’s straw mushroom. When mature, they are up to 15 cm across, but can also be much smaller. Their stems are white or yellowish, with green and brown shades in the cap, and the cap can be round or flat, depending on the mushroom’s age (a young death cap can look like a puffball mushroom). The base of the stem, which may be under soil, is bulbous. There is often a skirt-like membrane around the mushroom’s stem.

Young to old death cap mushrooms.
Photo by Justin Pierce via Wikimedia Commons
Different phases of a death cap mushroom’s growth.

Remember that a death cap’s appearance can vary

When they’re young, death caps are round balls. Mature death caps have flat caps, while younger ones have rounded caps. Be familiar with all of the stages of a death cap’s growth.

Know the symptoms of poisoning

A person may not feel the effects of a death cap mushroom for six hours to two days after eating one. Then they will experience severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and other gastrointestinal issues. The death cap damages the liver, so even if symptoms appear to abate, you may still experience liver failure.

If you suspect you’ve eaten a poisonous mushroom, take a sample of it and call 911 or your province’s Drug and Poison Information Centre.

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