Say hello to what might be the most famous fungus in the world, popular in fairy tales, Christmas imagery, and the Super Mario Bros. video games. We’re talking about fly agaric, a.k.a., toadstool mushrooms. Though most sprout during the wet fall weather, in some parts of Canada, it’s possible to spot them—look under aspen, birch, oak, and evergreen trees—even in early winter. The mushrooms form symbiotic relationships with the trees via their roots, supplying them with nutrients in exchange for sugars.
According to folklore, the white flecks on the fruiting caps of these fungi are warts left by toads. (After sitting on top of the mushroom. Because it’s a toad’s stool. Get it?). In reality, young mushrooms emerge from the ground with a white outer skin. As their tops grow larger, this layer rips, revealing red, orange, yellow, or tan underneath. Eventually only bits of the white skin are left, unless heavy rain washes it away completely.
Fly agaric may look bright, appealing, and possibly tasty, but—sorry—it’s known for its toxic effects. It can cause stomach cramps and nausea in mild cases of poisoning, and convulsions, hallucinations, coma, or possibly death in severe cases.