The Destroying Angel—Mushroom Hunting at Fairchild

It had been raining intensely for a couple days straight as of Friday, July 19, which it often does in South Florida during the summer, our wet season. Time to mushroom hunt! I don’t hunt them to eat, but rather to photograph and hopefully identify and research. I first ran across a nice mushroom under the sapodilla tree outside the Glasshouse Café. Then I walked a circuit along the path west past the Whitman Tropical Fruit Pavilion, past the Edible Garden, until soon the path turns north, with the Sunken Garden passing by on the right (east) of the path.

I look for mushrooms on mulch. Mulch can come from—well I don’t really know from where, which is the point. While it may not make sense economically to ship heavy mulch all over the country, it may certainly derive from non-local wood, meaning it also may carry non-local spores of fungi. Plus it’s dead, and therefore appealing as a food source to saprobic fungi (saprobic = deriving nutrients from dead, decaying organic matter).  So rain + mulch = decaying wood, a feeding frenzy for saprobic fungi.

Back to the path
Though I’m pretty nearsighted, I have gotten attuned to looking for fungi, and most are very small indeed. While sitting in a patch of mulch looking at the fecundity surrounding me I glanced up and out towards an area off the path and towards the border of Fairchild’s property. I gasped when I saw the towering—a rare adjective for a mushroom—examples of mushrooms erupting from the ground near the base of a palm. I certainly didn’t need glasses to see these strapping individuals. I’m not great at identifying, but I am fairly certain these mushrooms are destroying angels, in the genus Amanita (which includes the classic red and white fly agaric). Amanita bisporigera is the species more commonly found in the eastern U.S., so there’s a good chance that’s what we have here. Often mycologists (scientists who study fungi) rely on microscopic analysis of the mushroom’s spores for a specific identification.

Two destroying angel mushrooms
(Amanita sp.). The larger about
5 inches tall.

These beautiful, creamy white and (in this case) enormous mushrooms are one of the deadliest known to exist. Consumption results in a delayed gastrointestinal reaction (to be euphemistic), and severe liver and kidney damage, leading to death. Even with medical treatment, chances for survival aren’t great. Survival may depend on receiving a liver transplant, and quickly.

To learn more about the destroying angel, read this post from the fantastic Cornell University Mycology Blog:

For a really frightening tale of destroying angel poisoning and the man who survived it, read:



A whole lot of destruction—Destroying angel cap