Most Poisonous Mushrooms

Everybody knows that for most of us going into the woods to pick and eat a random selection of toadstools and mushrooms is pretty much like playing Russian roulette – it’s been drummed into us since we were reading fairy tales. The point is unless you are an absolute expert on gathering mushrooms you should probably steer well clear. But, I hear you say, isn’t it the red ones with white spots to watch out for?! Well that’s one type to avoid, and they will make you pretty ill. The one’s that will really do some damage look pretty unthreatening, often just like the edible ones.

One estimate I read puts the number of cases of mushroom poisonings at between 6-7,000 cases a year in the USA alone. Whilst the fatality rate is a fraction of a percent many do experience serious poisoning symptoms. Many of these cases are children but there are plenty involving adults, and in extreme cases entire families have been poisoned.

In total there are about 30 species of mushroom that have proven consistently fatal to humans, many of which are related. In addition there are a further 20 that have on occasions been known to cause death. The list below includes those responsible for killing the most people or with the greatest potential to do harm.

10. Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

Fly agaric - Amanita muscaria

Photo: H. Krisp / License

The fly agaric is the iconic toadstool of children’s fairy tales. Instantly recognisable with its bright red cap and white spots you would have to be an idiot to eat one of these! Or a child or pet. Whilst you can imagine why a kid may eat one of these it is less clear why dogs (and occasionally cats) seem to have a taste for them. Unfortunately fly agaric is even more poisonous to these animals and invariably lethal.

The main toxic agents in Amanita muscaria are muscimol and ibotenic acid. These act on the central nervous system causing loss of coordination, alternating agitation and sleep, nausea and in some cases hallucinations. The effects kick in after around one hour but are rarely fatal. One of the biggest risks is due to the crazy behaviour exhibited when intoxicated. Something that didn’t escape the ancients who used these in rituals.

9. Angel Wing (Pleurocybella porrigens)

Angel wing - Pleurocybella porrigens

Found throughout the Northern Hemisphere angel wing gets its name firstly from how it looks and secondly because eating it gives a good chance of sending you heaven-bound.

The angel wing was at one time considered edible and it seems that for many years there were no reported poisonings from eating it. That changed in 2004 when nearly 60 people became ill after eating them across Japan. Out of these 17 died during the following six weeks.
In a further case in 2009 a 65-year-old man died of encephalopathy (brain disease) after eating angel wings. It is worth pointing out that many of those who died had pre-existing kidney or liver problems.

The mode of toxicity isn’t well understood in this fungus but a unique amino acid has been identified that kills the brain cells of lab animals. It is also possible that the fungus contains elevated levels of cyanide.

8. Deadly Dapperling (Lepiota sp. )

Deadly dapperling - Lepiota

The name is a bit of a give away with this one. This small, tasty looking mushroom and many of the Lepiota family, contain the deadly amatoxin which is capable of destroying the liver. It is this toxin that is responsible for 80-90% of all mushroom poisoning deaths. The fatality rate from ingesting amatoxins is around 50% if untreated and still 10% with treatment. The initial symptoms are gastrointestinal-intestinal distress but death may take some time and result from liver failure.

It is found in conifer forests throughout Europe and North America and has been responsible for several deaths over the years.
Other members of the family include the equally delicious sounding deadly parasol.

7. Podostroma Cornu-damae

Podostroma cornu-damae

Photo: Kouchan / License

These funky looking Japanese fungi shout “Don’t eat me”! Well to me anyway. Obviously not to the folk of Japan though. I suppose they are already slightly fatalistic about their food, expecting to die every time they have a bit of puffer fish. Apparently this fungus looks like young Ganoderma lucidum and is only eaten in error though.

The main toxins in these fungi are trichothecene mycotoxins which have particularly unpleasant effects and may cause death within a matter of days. The symptoms are system wide and can affect all organs, primarily liver, kidneys and brain. There is also a depletion of blood cells, peeling of skin off the face and hair loss making it look like the victim is suffering from radiation poisoning (or leukemia).

6. Conocybe Filaris

Conocybe filaris

Photo: 414n / License

This mushroom is commonly found on lawns and is native to the Pacific Northwest region of the US. Whilst it doesn’t look immediately inviting as a snack its appearance in gardens brings it into closer proximity with people than many other mushrooms.

The other factor in accidental poisoning with this mushroom is the alleged similar appearance to the Psilocybes mushroom, also known as magic mushrooms. However, taking one of these could lead to the mother of all bad trips.

This fungus is known to contain the particularly deadly amatoxin which if ingested can cause irreparable liver damage.

  • Jimfishesvt

    There is a problem with #7 on your list. It in no way shape or form resenbles reishi( ganoderma lucidium). Which as a young specimen is white fading to a tanish color on the margin; which develops into the charistic varnish spore surface later as it matures. It also is a saprophyte growing primarily on damaged hemlock and other conifers as well as fallen dead hemlock. A far cry from growing in soil.

    Just throwing it out there; as many “Look-a-likes” do not look anything like the edible counterparts. Best best rule of any forager is- if it can’t be positivly identified, leave it alone, don’t touch it, it isn’t worth killing yourself or others through misidentification. When i collect for study, i ware disposable gloves. Due to the extreame toxicity of some species. A very small amount may cause hospitalization, and possibly death.

    • surfgatinho

      Having had a look at Ganoderma lucidum I kind of agree with you there. Not sure where I got that info from.

  • Gabe Millikan

    #10 should not be on the list …this mushroom is poisonous but not lethally, kinda like cyanesence and liberty caps are poisonous but not lethal, it is the poison in those that make you hallucinate. The same deal here, although the toxin is a different mushroom poison, that also when ingested makes you trip also. So if any retard tells you that these are deadly poisonous, slap them in the face for me out of respect for science. Here are the effects, when consumed more than four small caps, the effects are noted as, at first, nausea and intense tiredness, you may pass out into a deep sleep for 30 minutes, and then you wake up, or if you stayed awake, you now start to feel stoned, as if you smoked some weed, indica, a nice body high, 30 minutes later you start tripping balls, visuals happen. From then on you have 8-15 hours of madness or brilliant fun depending on if you panic or just take it as It comes. Everybody has the nerve to nievly condemn this mushroom as a deadly poisonous mushroom, because in child stories it is always shown to be a deadly poisonous forest mushroom. Do research before you condemn something because of folklore story books ment for children

    • surfgatinho

      Er, I think it pretty much says all this in the article, but feel free to rant…

      • hereinWA

        But it says, about animals eating them, “Unfortunately fly agaric is even more poisonous to these animals and invariably lethal.” Um, no. Many animals LOVE them, and I find no reports of them being lethal. Matter of fact, part of the St. Nicholas myth is based in amanita culture, as they are favoured by reindeer, and Siberian shamans will drink the urine of those reindeer, as the active components are not dissipated by the system.
        Gyromitra esculenta: ‘esculent’ means, basically, edible.
        Pleurocybella porrigens/pleurotis porrigens, also not deadly. So, why these 3 are including in top ten most deadly, I do not know. It is irresponsible, and makes all information suspect.

  • Mushroom Observer

    Destroying angel is (Amenita bisporigera)

  • Tugrul DeLuce

    they are missing a lot of toxic species like Inocybe, Entoloma, Tricholoma, Hebeloma, Clitocybe, Omphalotus, Hapalopilus, Coprinopsis+alcohol, …

    and Angel Wing (Pleurocybella porrigens) is only known to be toxic in Japan, so I think they were misidentified Trogia species, or misidentified Lampteromyces japonicus

  • Steve McCourtdie

    #3, the “Brain” or “False” Morel is delicious! However, it should NEVER be eaten raw! In fact, NO Morel should be eaten raw, including the classical, conical-shaped, sponge-like Morel. Yes, the Brain Morel is much more toxic if eaten raw, but cooking drives off the volatile toxins. Sauté with butter over moderate heat for five to 10 minutes, drain (cooking causes considerable shrinkage and excess liquid will accumulate in the pan; all fluids from cooking should be discarded) and smoother a steak right off the grill/broiler. Our family has been collecting Brain Morels in northern Michigan for many years and consider them a delicacy.