There are several species of poisonous mushrooms in the genus Amanita in the Northeast that are referred to as “destroying angels” but the most widely distributed and commonly encountered is Amanita bisporigera. It has a smooth white cap, gills, a skirt-like ring underneath the cap surrounding the stem (annulus) and a swollen stem base enclosed in a cup-like structure (volva). As it ages, this mushroom often acquires an odor reminiscent of rotting meat. Destroying angles are mycorrhizal with oaks – the underground portion of this fungus surrounds a tree’s rootlets with a sheath, and help the tree absorb water and nutrients while the tree provides sugars and amino acids to the mushroom. Destroying angels are among the most toxic known mushrooms, and closely resemble other white mushrooms that are edible. Consult an expert mycologist before consuming any mushroom that even remotely looks like this!
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The Yellow-orange Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria var. formosa) is common in New England, especially where conifers grow. Out West this mushroom is often a bright red color, but in the East it’s typically orange/yellow. When certain gilled mushrooms, including many Amanita species, first form, they are encased in a membrane called a “universal veil.” As the mushroom enlarges and matures, the veil ruptures, with remnants of it remaining on the mushroom’s cap. Fly Agaric fungi got their name from the custom of placing little pieces of the mushroom in milk to attract flies. The flies supposedly become inebriated and crash into walls and die. This mushroom is somewhat poisonous (as are many Amanita species) and hallucinogenic when consumed by humans. The toxins affect the part of the brain that is responsible for fear, turning off the fear emotion. Vikings, who had a reputation for fierceness, are said to have ingested this mushroom prior to invading a village.