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Try to be very careful with mushrooms

Being an object lesson isn’t always easy. First, I have to do something dumb or dangerous and then I have to get organized enough to explain what doesn’t work and why.

It would be nice if this could be accomplished without making me look like an idiot, but the point is to help you avoid the errors in judgment that I make. No sense in all of us looking dumb and I’m used to it.

I wasn’t thinking about that when I wandered out into the woods behind the house in search of moss, cones and the other ingredients of winter decorating and craft projects. This is where the dumb part comes in — I get so drunk on the sensory overload of the world that I forget to think.

This is mushroom season, and I found two varieties I didn’t recognize. They were very pretty, so I brought one of each in for identification, using a couple favorite mushroom books.

I’d gathered classic examples of the two deadliest mushrooms in existence, the Death Cap and the Destroying Angel. Both are very common in our area. Both are members of the genus Amanita, which has hundreds of species, including the beautiful red ’shrooms with white spots that look like they just danced out of a Disney movie.

Mushroom identification is tricky business and anyone that claims to know all about local mushrooms shouldn’t be trusted. If you want to hunt mushrooms, which is a delightful way to spend wet days and as addictive as fishing or hunting for agates, there are steps that can increase your chances of survival.

If possible, learn from experts, mycologists, but take even their advice with a grain of salt. Every few years an “expert” accidentally kills himself. If you’re using books, always err on the side of caution. Field guides have improved tremendously. Time was when mushroom manuals had black and white photos and virtually every genus was labeled, “Some are poisonous and some are not.”

Of the very few mushrooms I gather, none has a toxic look-alike. The little hedgehog, a favorite with a peppery taste, has tiny teeth instead of gills. It is absolutely unique. Also, I missed an important clue the other day by not noticing that the mushrooms were untouched by slugs or bugs. Beware the pristine mushroom.

Once I was gathering mushrooms from the garden before grandbabies visited, since toddlers will eat anything. I looked up and noticed the air was made of sparkling rainbows and I could see sound waves. Since then I use rubber gloves if I plan to pick mushrooms. If you forget your gloves, don’t touch your eyes and wash as soon as possible.

The simple truth is that more of our mushrooms are toxic than not. They will make you crazy or dead, either of which can ruin your holidays. Be very careful, and just think how stupid you’d feel if you survived.


Reach Inez Castor, a longtime Triplicate columnist, at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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