No death cap for cutie

No death cap for cutie

Field mush­rooms picked fresh from the soil open up a world of new and exot­ic flavours, right?

Trou­ble is, not every­thing in nature is good for you. You would nev­er let a child smile at a croc­o­dile or play with a red back spi­der. But less obvi­ous­ly dan­ger­ous are poi­so­nous mush­room species such as the death cap.

At this time of the year sea­son­al rains cause many species of mush­rooms and toad­stools to appear in gar­dens, farm­land and bush­land – includ­ing the death cap. These mush­rooms have caused fatal­i­ties inter­state and over­seas and can be con­fused with some edi­ble straw mushrooms.

Mon­i­tor­ing the loca­tions of death cap mush­rooms is an impor­tant role of state macro­fun­gi expert, Pam Catch­e­side – a vol­un­teer Hon­orary Research Asso­ciate at the State Herbar­i­um of South Aus­tralia.

Pam is adamant that the only safe mush­room is one bought from a reg­u­lat­ed grow­er or retail­er, so the increased inter­est in peo­ple want­i­ng to explore culi­nary uses for plants and fun­gi grown in the wild gives her extra rea­son to be concerned.

The prob­lem is that many edi­ble species of mush­room are eas­i­ly con­fused with poi­so­nous species,’ Pam said.

And there are many species of native fun­gi where there is no knowl­edge of their edibility.’

Because of this, the State Herbar­i­um has a strict pol­i­cy of not encour­ag­ing any­one to eat any wild-found fun­gi, and does not pro­vide pub­lic iden­ti­fi­ca­tions for edibility.

Through the State Herbar­i­um, Pam recent­ly led two fun­gi iden­ti­fi­ca­tion work­shops. Par­tic­i­pants includ­ed med­ical sci­en­tists respon­si­ble for advis­ing doc­tors on the appro­pri­ate treat­ment for cas­es of mush­room poi­son­ing, and field biol­o­gists want­i­ng to learn more about native and intro­duced fun­gi and their eco­log­i­cal roles. As a result of the inter­est in these cours­es, the Herbar­i­um is con­sid­er­ing mak­ing them an annu­al event.

About the scientist

This week is Nation­al Sci­ence Week a time to cel­e­brate the con­tri­bu­tion of scientists.

Pam Catch­e­side is wide­ly recog­nised for excel­lence in sci­ence research and con­tri­bu­tions to the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty, thanks to her vol­un­tary research in the field of mycol­o­gy – the study of fun­gi. She became an Hon­orary Research Asso­ciate at the State Herbar­i­um in 2001, and has been SA’s res­i­dent expert on macro­fun­gi ever since.

Pho­to: Edi­ble shop-bought shi­take mush­room used for head­ing photo.

This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living