Mushrooms, fungi, toadstools—no matter what you call them, you have probably seen them growing in your yard and everywhere you travel. They come in many different colors, shapes, and sizes—not to mention smells—and range from edible delicacy to deadly poisonous. Illinois certainly has its share of wild, funky, as well as poisonous mushrooms found throughout the spring, summer and fall seasons. We’ve separated these into 3 distinct categories:
1. Wild and Funky:
Dog Vomit Fungus (Fuligo septica)
Image credit: http://www.midwestnaturalist.com/fuligo_septica.html
This interesting looking mass is a slime mold “which looks a lot like something a dog vomited after eating too much lemon spongecake”. It grows on a variety of substrates including woodchips, woody debris (ex: organic mulch) and grass after a lot of rain in spring and early summer but also appears in late summer and fall as well. Although it looks disgusting, it is not toxic.
Dog Stinkhorn (Mutinus caninus)
Image credit: https://www.mushroomexpert.com/mutinus_elegans.html
The dog stinkhorn appears in the summer. It starts out whitish, then turns orange, and finally becomes the pinkish red seen in this picture. These mushrooms are not toxic and considered inedible by many because as the name implies, they smell terrible.
Dead Man’s Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha)
Image credit: https://www.mushroomexpert.com/xylaria_polymorpha.html
These mushrooms grow out of wood. They start out looking bluish, but by summer have dried out and become black, resembling a creepy hand reaching out from whatever log they are growing on. I can’t think of anyone who would be tempted to taste this, to-date there have not been any reports of toxic ingestions.
Inky Cap (Coprinopsis atramentaria)
Image credit: https://www.mushroomexpert.com/coprinopsis_atramentaria.html
This mushroom gets its name from the black gills that liquefy as it matures, turning into an inky black slime. Eating this mushroom alone should not produce any toxicity. However, if this mushroom is consumed with alcohol, it produces extremely unpleasant effects such as nausea, vomiting, metallic taste, weakness, confusion, and increased heart rate.
2. Gastrointestinal Irritants:
The Vomiter (Chlorophyllum molybdites)
Image credit: https://www.mushroomexpert.com/chlorophyllum_molybdites.html
This mushroom is the most common cause of mushroom poisoning in Illinois (as well as all of North America). It grows in “Fairy rings” in grass in the summer and fall; it is the only mushroom with green gills. The green color may not be present if the mushroom is young. The gills of this species start out white and turn olive green as the mushroom matures, so it can be mistakenly identified in it’s early stages. Chlorophyllum molybdites is a strong gastrointestinal irritant, meaning it can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea.
The Omphalotus illudens, which is also called the Jack-O’-Lantern mushroom for its bright orange color, also contains gastrointestinal irritants which can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Unfortunately, it is often mistaken for the edible species chanterelles.
Image credit: https://www.mushroomexpert.com/omphalotus_illudens.html
3. Potentially Fatal:
Among the largest concerns when consuming wild mushrooms is the potential for liver damage from mushrooms that contain amatoxin. Unlike most mushrooms that are gastrointestinal irritants which typically cause symptoms within two to three hours (ex: the Omphalotus illudens or Jack-O’-Lantern mushroom), amatoxin-containing mushrooms may not produce symptoms until six to 24 hours after ingestion. Delaying treatment can result in adverse outcomes. The amatoxin-containing mushrooms most likely to be consumed in Illinois are:
Amanita bisporigera (aka “destroying angel”), notable for its white cap, stem and gills, a white ring of tissue near the top of the stem and a distinct cup of tissue at the base of the stem.
Image credit: https://www.mushroomexpert.com/amanita_bisporigera.html
Galerina marginata, a small brown-orange mushroom that can easily be mistaken for the edible honey mushroom.
Image credit: https://www.mushroomexpert.com/galerina_marginata.html
Beware: The potentially deadly Galerina species of mushrooms can be misidentified as a Psilocybin-containing mushroom – a bad mistake to make. As with most poisons, an individual’s symptoms can depend on many factors, including age, weight and amount consumed.
“On the subject of wild mushrooms, it is easy to tell who is an expert and who is not: The expert is the one who is still alive.”~ Donal Henahan
Identifying Poisonous Mushrooms
Since mushroom identification is extremely difficult, it’s best left to mycologists who study fungi and have years of training. If you or someone you know may have eaten a potentially poisonous mushroom, don’t wait for symptoms to appear. Call the IPC 800-222-1222 Helpline immediately. If you haven’t already done so, please save the helpline number to your phone: 800-222-1222. It’s a free, confidential call any day of the year, 24 hours a day (with a free translation service). If you live/work in Illinois, click here for the free online Poison Prevention Education Course (in English and Spanish) and/or request a Complimentary Safety Packet (sticker, magnet and first aid recommendations included; available in English and Spanish).
P.S. Check out these free fungi education resources for all ages (re: mushrooms, mold and yeasts):
- Movie: “Fantastic Fungi”
- Song: “Fungi” by Peter Weatherall https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv_lgBPPVnQ
- Poster: IL Mushrooms https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/publications/Documents/00000680.pdf
- Videos (for kids and adults; 3-5 min.):
- Fungi: Why Mushrooms Are Awesome (Biology for Kids) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fooP2ienR0
- Coloring pages: