I have been giving a series of walks on mushrooms this fall (2019) and the most asked question I get is how can I identify the death cap mushroom and does it grow in north Vancouver Island locations. I will try to answer these questions.
Amanita phalloides, or as it is more commonly called, the Death Cap does grow on Vancouver Island, and with people having read about the pets who have died this year from eating these mushrooms in the Victoria area and the 3-year-old child who died in 2016, they are now very worried about them. There is a lot of misinformation being presented out there, online and in news publications, that one can hardly blame them.
So I would like to present some facts about this mushroom in regard to North America in general and Vancouver Island specifically.
The very first recorded sighting of a Death Cap Mushroom in North America was at the Del Monte Hotel in Monterey, California, this was in 1938. In 1945 another was spotted growing on the lawn of Berkeley University Grounds. It then worked its way up the coast until in 1997 it was spotted in the Fraser Valley. It is now common there and is showing up on southern Vancouver Island, some Gulf Islands, and on the Saanich Peninsula. This mushroom is of European descent. It is believed to have come here as mycelium on a host tree, perhaps it was on a Cork Oak Tree but although it has been found growing on the roots of this tree, it’s still unknown, the best we can do is understand that it came here as an invasive and got its start at the Del Monte Hotel. What we do know is that the death cap found here on the Island is genetically identical to the European one. It is considered a dangerous invasive species.
Since the many reports all over social media and various news outlets about finding this mushroom everywhere have sprung up, people are reporting seeing them all over the island, the majority of the time the reported mushrooms are leucoagaricus leucothites or as it is more commonly known, the White Dapperling Mushroom.
There also have been statements being put forth that you should never handle these mushrooms or any mushroom for that matter, as you could get dermally poisoned this way. According to the prevailing view of mycologists worldwide, there is no danger to handling essentially any mushrooms under any normal circumstance.
Jason Gowen from the Vancouver Island Mushroom group on Facebook and I recently had a conversation about this mushroom, and he told me that he spoke with Dr. Berch who, along with several other mycologists, are involved in tracking these mushrooms. Dr. Berch stated that there have been no confirmed sightings of the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) on the north island at this time.
Here is an update: The death cap mushroom has been found in the Comox area, and you are advised to educate yourself about these deadly mushrooms. The specimen was confirmed to be a death cap, Jason Gowen had been asked to confirm it. I just received an email from Jason confirming this to me. The specimen is now at UBC and getting sequencing done and being preserved for herbarium, Shannon Berch coordinated with Harry and Island health who made the advisory. Read more on this.
The fact of the matter is that the North Island does not have the required host trees at sufficient maturity or quantity. Primarily, in Europe, we see them with Hornbeam, Oak, Hazelnut, occasionally Chestnut. The most common of those are the Oak and the Hornbeam trees. They are predisposed to European hardwoods, some of which have been planted around the south island. Of our native trees, they have only been shown to form mycorrhizae with the Gary Oak, it appears to be our only indigenous tree that they are readily adapting to, which is why for now their distribution is relatively contained to the south island.