December 12, 2017

Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

Fly Agaric against a wall

Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

The classic toadstool, and as such surely familiar to all through it’s numerous references in popular culture.

Whether its peeking out of the undergrowth beneath fairies and elves in book illustrations, or dancing around in Disney’s Fantasia or even appearing as a playable character in Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers games, it highly likely you’ve seen it before, or rather, you’ve seen a representation of it before, but in truth, it’s actually not that hard to spot in the wild, particularly over the next few months, here in the UK.

Its quite a cosmopolitan species, most frequently found alongside birch trees but also with pine and spruce, so you should be able to find favourable habitat without too much difficulty.

Group of young Fly Agarics

Group of young A. muscaria

They start off as lumpy little white buttons then, as they swell, the white membrane splits and the familiar rich, shiny, red shows through.

As the toadstool grows, the membrane fragments and becomes widely scattered across the cap. It’s not very strongly attached though, and can be washed off in the the Autumn rain. This can lead to it being mistaken for other edible species of Amanita in Southern Europe, but there’s nothing quite like it in this country.

No one seems absolutely sure where the name Fly Agaric comes from but one school of thought is that it used to be used as an insecticide, another is that a peculiar quirk of its hallucinogenic properties led users to believe they were able to fly. My personal favourite though is also connected to its hallucinogenic properties as it was believed that madness or even divine possession was a result of a fly entering a persons ear.

Whimsy aside, its a pretty breathtaking species and I highly recommend it as my species of the day.