This section is from the book "Our Edible Toadstools and Mushrooms and How to Distinguish Them", by W. Hamilton Gibson. Also available from Amazon: Our Edible Toadstools And Mushrooms And How To Distinguish Them.
THE frequency of this terrible foe in all our woods, and the ever-recurring fa-alities which are continually traced to its seductive treachery (some twenty-five deaths having been recorded in the public journals during the summer of 1893 alone), render it important that its teeth should be drawn, and its portrait placarded and popularly familiarized as an archenemy of mankind.
The Deadly "Amanita".
As we have seen, from every superficial standpoint, this species is self-commendatory. It is, without doubt, in comeliness, symmetry, and structure, the ideal of all our mushrooms, as it is, indeed, the botanical type of the tribe Agaricus, as well as its most notorious genus. Since the time of that carousing young lunatic Nero, who, doubtless, was wont to make merry with its "convenient poison," upon one occasion, it is recorded by Pliny, to the presumably amusing extinction of the entire guests of a banquet, together with the prefect of the guard and a small host of tribunes and centurions, the Amanita has claimed an army of victims.
While giving no superficial token of its dangerous character to the casual observer, the Amanita, as a genus and a species, is nevertheless easily identified, if the mushroom collector will for the moment consider it from the botanical rather than the sensuous or gustatorial standpoint. The deadly Amanita need no longer impose upon the fastidious feaster in the guise of the dainty "legume" of his menu, or as a contaminating, fatal ingredient in the otherwise wholesome ragout.
In Plate 3 I have presented the reprobate Amanita vernus in its protean progressive proportions from infancy to maturity. This is especially desirable, in that the fungus is equally dangerous as an infant, and also because the development of its growth specially emphasizes botanically the one important structural character by which the species or genus may be easily distinguished. Let us, then, consider the specimen as a type of the tribe Agaricus (gilled mushroom, see p. 79), genus Amanita.
Year after year we are sure of finding this species, or others of the genus, especially in the spring and summer, its favorite haunt being the woods. Its spores, like other mushrooms, are shed upon the ground from the white gills beneath, as described in our chapter on "Spore-prints," or wafted to the ends of the earth on the breeze, and eventually, upon having found a suitable habitat, vesretate in the form of webby, white, mould-like growth - mycelium - which threads through the dead leaves, the earth, or decaying wood. This running growth is botanically considered as the true fungus, the final mushroom being the fruit, whose function is the dissemination of the spores. After a rain, or when the conditions are otherwise suitable, a certain point among this webby tangle beneath the ground becomes suddenly quickened into astonishing cell-making energy, and a small rounded nodule begins to form, which continues to develop with great rapidity (Plate 2). In a few hours more it has pushed its head above ground, and now appears like an egg, as at A, Plate 3. The successive stages in its development are clearly indicated in the drawings. Each represents an interval of an hour or two, or more, the most suggestive and important feature being the outer envelope, or volva, which encloses the actual mushroom - at first completely, then in a ruptured condition, until in the mature growth the only vestige of it which appears above ground are the few shreds generally, though not always, to be seen on the top of the cap. The most important character of this deadly Amanita is, therefore, apparently with almost artful malice prepense, often concealed from cur view in the mature specimen, the only remnant of the original outer sack being the cup or socket about the base of the stem, which is generally hidden under ground, and usually there remains after we pluck the specimen.
Plate II. - Mycelium, And Early Vegetation Of A Mushroom