The fungi with gills all have this characteristic in common-that they bear their spores on radiating plates or lamellae. Their family name, Agaricacece, is derived from a typical member of the family, Agaricus campestris. The family is the largest and most widely distributed of all the families, and contains some five thousand described species, which are placed in groups or genera, more or less large, based on such characters as the colour of the spores; the position and shape of the lamellae; the colour and texture, as well as the shape, odour, taste, and appendages of the cap and stem.
The colour of the spores is one of the most important characteristics, as the decision as to whether the plant is wholesome or not often rests upon it. The colour may be determined by placing the cap, with spore surface down, on a sheet of white or black paper, and leaving it for a time under an inverted glass, so as to cut off all drafts which may blow the spores away. A print of the radiating gills will then be made in the colour of the spores-white, pink, rusty brown, or black.
For external characters of the stem, one must be careful to get the entire stem from the ground; for a most important characteristic, the volva, if present, will be found at the base. The volva may be membranous and attached to the base, excepting at the rim, or membranous and loose, or present only in the form of rings of scales at the base, with perhaps traces on the surface of the cap.
The surface of the stem may be smooth or rusty or mealy white. It may or may not have near the cap a ring of the membrane which covered the gills of the young plant.
The character of the lamellae and the internal characters of the stem may best be determined by cutting the cap and stem from top to base with a sharp knife, for then it may be seen whether the gills are free from the stem or attached to it, or whether they grow down on the stem; and whether the stem is hollow, solid, or filled with web-like mycelium, and whether it is fleshy or has a tough and hard rind. The lamellae may be of different or of equal lengths, and their edges may be entire or toothed or thin or blunt.
To know a genus of the gill-bearing fungi, one must know the cap, gills, stem, and habit of growth which characterise that genus.
A very young plant of the genus Amanita is enveloped in a membranous wrapper. The relation of the young plant to the wrapper will readily be understood by cutting a young plant through its length.
As the plant grows, the wrapper is ruptured, a part is left at the base to form a cup or sheath, or a part may be carried up on the cap, to appear in small patches.
The cap is, as a rule, regular and broadly convex. It may be almost flat when mature. The stem has a conspicuous collar and the gills are free from the stem.
There are twenty American species in the genus Amanita ; some of them are the most poisonous fungi known, while others are most highly esteemed for the table. Since the most dangerous species belong to this genus, it would be better for the amateur not to eat of specimens which havestalks with a swollen base surrounded by a cuplike or scaly envelope, especially if the gills are white. In gathering all white-gilled species, care should be taken to get Fungi with Gills below the base of the stalk ; for it often happens that the bulb is broken off and left behind, and thus the principal characteristic lost which would mark it as a specimen not to be eaten.
Section of young plant in wrapper.
Young plant in wrapper.
A. muscaria (See Plate III.).
Death Cup; Poison Amanita (Poisonous)
Cap or Pileus- White or greenish or greyish brown; smooth, no striations; width, 5-5 inches.
Stem or Stipe- Ring present. Abruptly bulbous at the base ; bulb margined by the wrapper remains. White in white-cap forms, tinged with a paler shade than the cap in brown-cap forms. Pithy when young, hollow when old. 3-6 inches long.
Veil - White in white-cap forms, tinged with brown in brown-cap forms.
Gills or Lamella - White, free from the stem, rounded at the stem end, rather broad.
Spores - Globose and white.
Flesh - White.
Time - July to October.
Habitat - Woods, groves, open places, and pastures.
The poisonous principle of the death cup is known as phal-lin, one of the tox-albumins, the poisons found in rattlesnakes and other venomous animals, and the poisons which produce death in cholera and diphtheria.
The phallin acts directly upon the blood corpuscles, dissolving these, so that the serum of the blood escapes from the blood-vessels into the alimentary canal and drains the whole system of its vitality. There is no known antidote by which the effects of phallin may be counteracted. If one has eaten of the Amanita phalloides, the only chance of saving life is to remove the undigested parts from the alimentary canal by stomach-pump and oil purgatives; then, if the amount of phallin absorbed into the system is not too great, the remainder may wear itself out on the blood and the patient may recover.
The amount of the fungus which is necessary to produce death is small; even the handling of specimens and the breathing in of spores affect some people unpleasantly.
Death Cup, Destroying Angel
(Amanita phalloides, Fries)
Reduced. Nat. size: Cap, 3 1/2 inches; stem, 7 1/2 inches