Species of the Month: October 2016 - Fly agaric

Fly agaric (image: onderwijsgek - Wikimedia)

This year, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust is running a new series taking a closer look at one key species of flora or fauna each month. For October, we are looking at fly agaric…

Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria)

Image: Elliott NeepFly agaric is a very distinctive British mushroom with a red cap and white spots. It is amongst the most iconic of the toadstools, commonly depicted in children’s books and on Christmas cards around the world.

The cap of the fly agaric is around 10 to 20 cm across and is occasionally orange rather than the usual red. Very rarely a white form is seen; this doesn’t have red spots despite being depicted that way in some story books! This species may appear in so-called ‘fairy rings’ – a circle of fungi. The stem is white, cylindrical and slightly felt-like or scaly; it is 10 to 20 cm tall and 1 to 2 cm in diameter.

Image: JJ HarrisonBeing one of the members of the amanita genus, also known as ‘magic mushrooms’, fly agaric is well known for its mind-altering and hallucinogenic properties. It can cause psychotropic (i.e. affecting mental activity, behaviour or perception) poisoning with severe effects – in extreme cases, death. It also contains muscarine, a sweat-inducing toxin. Consequently, fly agaric is best photographed and recorded, but not touched!

Where to see it

Fly agaric grows most commonly in pine and birch woodland but can also be seen in parkland or lowland heath with scattered trees. It is found throughout the UK and is classed as ‘common’. Usually, fly agaric recurs in the same place for several years.

How to help fly agaric to thrive

If you manage an area of woodland, don’t be too tidy - leaving plenty of fallen dead wood encourages many types of fungi. This also applies in gardens; log piles and dead wood are a key feature of a wildlife-friendly garden benefitting a wealth of wildlife. Recording any sightings around the county can provide vital information that informs our conservation work too.

Get in touch

If you spot fly agaric – or any other species - please do let us know! You can submit records online at www.herefordshirewt.org, email them to records@herefordshirewt.co.uk or write to Lower House Farm, Ledbury Road, Hereford, HR1 1UT.

Image: Neil Aldridge