Alert! Deadly Pine Mushroom Look-Alike Growing Abundantly This Year
The deadly poisonous Smith’s amanita (amanita smithiana), a relative of the Death Cap (amanita phalloides) and a pine mushroom look-alike, is growing abundantly this year in areas where pine mushrooms are found, warns mushroom forager and educator Shaggy Jack (Jody Franklin) of Gibsons. Franklin teaches mushroom foraging classes for beginners. “One group I took out, we found a Smith’s amanita growing a few feet away from a pine, which is fairly common,” he says. “But I’ve seen more Smith’s around this year than I ever have before, I’m encountering several specimens daily in prime pine territory, where they’ve been coming out for weeks ahead of the pines. People are picking them and coming to me to confirm whether they are pines or not – I’m concerned that beginners who don’t consult with experts may make deadly mistakes.
“There is a strong potential for fatalities in the province,” says Franklin, “because this time of year, when the commercial pine mushroom industry gets going, there are a lot of casual pickers out there looking for pines, who do not necessarily have the appropriate knowledge to make a correct identification. Buyers can weed out the look-alikes, but I worry about beginners bringing them home to the table.” Smith’s amanita can cause acute renal failure within 2-6 days of eating.
Smith’s amanita shares a number of characteristics with the pine mushroom, including the overall white colouration, veil remnants on the cap margin, the size, cap shape and surface staining, and will often appear growing under moss layers with only a portion of the cap showing. While Smith’s often have warts on the cap like other amanitas, which helps distinguish it from pines, sometimes the warts wash off in the rain. “The distinctive cinnamon candy smell of pine gills may not be a good way to identify pine mushrooms for everybody, because the chlorine-like smell of Smith’s can smell very similar to some people,” Franklin notes, as he’s had students try to distinguish the two by scent, but it doesn’t work very well. The brown stains that Smith’s amanitas acquire as they push up through the dirt often appear similar to the rusty reddish-brown staining on pines.
“The most reliable way to spot the difference in the field is to apply the ‘shake test,’ says Franklin, “something that every pine mushroom picker needs to know.” He instructs: (1) Pick the whole mushroom with base entirely intact. (2) Hold the mushroom tightly at the base using your thumb and index finger. (3) Vigorously shake the mushroom back and forth. Once you start shaking the mushroom, within a few seconds the cap of the Smith’s amanita will break free from the stalk, and the stalk itself may break apart. The pine is a very solid mushroom with the cap very firmly attached to the stalk. Another key difference is the shape of the stalk: the pine characteristically tapers at the bottom and is widest at the top, while Smith’s amanitas have a bulbous or fusiform base that typically flares out and appears wider than the stalk above it.
“The abundance of Smith’s amanitas is far more alarming to me than reports of Death Caps in BC, because the Death Cap has no sough-after edible look-alike. Everybody in the province looking for pine mushrooms needs to be warned.”