To the unsuspecting eye, Aminita virosa looks like it could be a harmless natural ingredient to a culinary concoction.
The little white mushroom is commonly known in the botanical community as the “destroying angel” for its white hue and dangerous potency.
The mushrooms killed two elderly women and hospitalized four others who ate them at a California eldercare home Thursday night. A staff member picked the mushrooms from the facility’s backyard and added them to a soup, unaware that they were poisonous.
Foragers should be on notice that those same mushrooms can be found in Florida, where wet conditions and the humid climate allow many species of fungi to flourish.
University of Florida associate professor of plant pathology Matthew Smith said the key to staying safe is knowing which species of wild mushrooms are harmful.
Aminita mushrooms, for example, account for about 90 percent of serious poisonings in the United States, Smith said.
“You want to be able to recognize this species in the wild.”
Smith said Aminita virosa is easily identifiable if you know what you’re looking for. It’s chief distinguishing feature is an obvious cup-like growth on the stem. Smith cautioned that foragers who aren’t 100 percent sure of a mushroom’s species should be careful to avoid it.
“The mushroomer’s rule is, ‘When in doubt, throw it out,'” he said.
Smith said commercially sold mushrooms are always the safest, but if you suspect that you’ve eaten a poisonous mushroom, immediately call 911 and ask for assistance.
Adam Pages contributed to this story.