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Play it safe: Don’t eat urban mushrooms

Be on the lookout for poisonous death cap mushrooms in your city.
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​Photo credit: Paul Kroeger

​As the wet fall weather sets in, the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and Vancouver Mycological Society are alerting people not to eat the dangerous death cap mushroom, but they can play an important role in reporting the deadly mushrooms.

“We’ve had 30 calls between June and August about mushroom exposures and 16 in September alone,” said Raymond Li, pharmacist with the B.C. Drug and Poison Control Centre. “Now that the rains are here, people are seeing mushrooms all over the place. The volume of calls we get about mushrooms is really dependent on the weather.”

The death cap mushroom, which has the Latin name Amanita phalloides, is the most poisonous mushroom in the world and is easily mistaken for edible mushrooms like the paddy straw mushroom, found in Asia. Immature death caps can also look like edible puff balls.

To raise awareness of the poisonous mushroom and make the mushrooms easier to identify, the BCCDC and Vancouver Mycological Society have led a project to create a warning poster and brochure about the death cap. They’ve also created guidelines for municipalities on what to do if they find the mushrooms growing in their local parks and public spaces.

The death cap is not native to B.C. and is found in urban environments. It was brought in on the roots of trees that line our streets and parks, like hornbeam, European beech, hazelnut, lindens, English and red oaks, and sweet chestnut trees. 

“There was no way of knowing it was there when we brought the trees here,” said Paul Kroeger, founding member and past president of the Vancouver Mycological Society. “It was not until the trees matured, about 50 years later, that the mushrooms began to appear.”
A 2008 survey by the Vancouver Mycological Society found the death cap growing in many sites, and now more than 100 locations in the Vancouver area are known. They’ve also been reported in other parts of the province including the Fraser Valley and on the Island. In 2016, a toddler died after eating death caps on Vancouver Island. 

No one knows exactly where or in how many places these mushrooms are growing. The BCCDC is asking people to report death cap mushrooms or suspected death cap mushrooms to their local mycological club or online through the B.C. government’s Invasive Species Working Group report form or mobile app. 

Li says most mushroom calls to poison control come from people who are worried about children or pets who may have taken a bite out of a mushroom they found. If that’s the case, he suggests taking the whole mushroom or careful pictures of it so it can possibly be identified or at least so dangerous mushrooms like the death cap can be ruled out.

Drug and Poison Control Centre also gets calls from people who go out foraging for mushrooms and who either have second thoughts after eating wild mushrooms or start to feel unwell.

“I generally caution against foraging in urban environments because of the added risk,” said Kroeger. “If you’re foraging, go to a natural forest and go with an expert; there are lots of mushroom clubs, events, and festivals.” 

Amanita smithianaBut as Kroeger points out, there are poisonous mushrooms in the natural forest too, including a pine mushroom look-alike in the same family as the death cap known as Amanita smithiana

“Many mushrooms are neither harmful nor good to eat but are very important for the health of our forest,” he said. “Most mushrooms do more good than harm.”

New death cap mushroom resources:
Symptoms of death cap poisoning
The death cap contains toxins that damage the liver and kidney. Within six to 12 hours, people experience:
  • Cramping
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Vomiting 
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Dehydration
After 24 hours, many people will feel better but the toxins continue to damage vital organs. A second wave of diarrhea and cramping occur within 72 hours after eating the mushroom, resulting in severe illness and organ failure. Medical treatment and organ transplants may be required to prevent death.

If you suspect mushroom poisoning, call poison control immediately at 1-800-567-8911.

What to do if you find death cap mushrooms growing
  • Note the location, take careful photographs, and make a report.
  • Remove the mushrooms and dispose of them.
  • Touching death caps is not a risk but gloves are recommended.
  • Do not dispose of death cap mushrooms in your home compost.
  • Dispose of them in the municipal compost (green bins) or bag them and put them in the garbage.
  • Wash your hands after removing the mushrooms. 

BC Centre for Disease Control; Health alert


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