Funkadelic Fungi

Funkadelic” is a word. I discovered this word whilst looking for words that might adequately entitle this post, and funkadelic hits the spot. These fungi are certainly funkadelic.

Funkadelic fungi I
Funkadelic fungi I

You’re probably going to laugh at me when I tell you I didn’t know what they were. I mean, for crap’s sake, they’re only the most recognizable mushroom ever. But I blanked. All I could remember was that gnomes and faeries are often found sitting on them in myths. I didn’t remember the name until I dropped by the fungi page on Wikipedia and saw them there. Fly agaric. Duh. Of course, its Latin name is far more lovely: Amanita muscaria.

Funkadelic fungi II
Funkadelic fungi II

You’ll laugh even harder when I tell you I was terrified of them, but I couldn’t remember if they were the extremely poisonous variety or not. My mother used to fill my head with visions of instant death to ensure I didn’t go putting wild mushrooms in my mouth as a kid. That lesson sorta stuck. Even knowing fly agaric mushrooms don’t kill many people, I’m still wary of them. I think it’s that siren-red color with the white bits sticking out. It’s beautiful, but not something I’d put in my mouth.

Funkadelic fungi III
Funkadelic fungi III

I don’t remember ever seeing these in the wild before. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them outside of illustrations. When we lived in Indiana, I was just a wee thing, and all I remember is morels. Oh, darlings, the wild morels! We’d pick bags of them, and one of my earliest memories is being in my paternal grandmother’s kitchen, watching a bunch of them sizzle in butter while my mouth watered. Even seeing all the bugs we’d just soaked out of them didn’t kill my appetite. They’re delicious, and any residual bugs are just bonus protein. That’s one of the only things I miss about Indiana: being able to pluck these things out of the ground. Buying them dried at an exorbitant price just isn’t the same.

Whether we ever ran into Amanita muscaria, I don’t know.

Funkadelic fungi IV
Funkadelic fungi IV

In Arizona, of course, mushrooms aren’t precisely abundant. We’d get excited by the tiny little brown ones that appeared in the lawns on occasion, and the day we found the enormous puffball at camp on the San Francisco Peaks was one of the most exciting fungi-related discoveries ever. The thing was bigger than my head. That’s pretty intense for someone who’d barely seen a mushroom since the age of 3.

Funkadelic fungi V
Funkadelic fungi V

I’ve seen plenty of fungi since moving up here. I’ve seen those platy wood mushrooms, some of them growing like decorative shelves in stacks on the trees, some of them looking large enough to sit comfortably on. I’ve seen any number of tan mushrooms, from tiny little things dotting the grass and peeking out from nests of moss to much larger ones that look like they’d make a substantial meal, if only you knew which ones weren’t horribly poisonous. But I haven’t seen many colorful ones.

Funkadelic fungi VI
Funkadelic fungi VI

Then, as I was out scoping drowned roads with my area manager, I saw a bunch of the reddest, most fairy-tale looking mushrooms I’d ever seen, flourishing in the grass of the verge. And I vowed I’d get out there and photograph them if it ever stopped raining. Which it did. The little bunch I’d seen was gone, and what was left was starting to look a bit ragged and elderly compared to the young storybook ones I’d seen, but they were still magnificent. Especially to Arizona eyes.

Funkadelic fungi VII
Funkadelic fungi VII

So of course I took nine billion pictures of them. Fly agaric may not be exciting to some people, but they’re thrilling to me.

Funkadelic fungi VIII
Funkadelic fungi VIII

After getting my initial fill of macro mushrooms, I stepped back for a more global look. They’re growing at the feet of some very large oak trees, sticking up through the short-cut grass. There’s only one short stretch where they all grow – I didn’t find any on the verge before or after, although there are some random ones in other locations around the North Creek area.

Funkadelic fungi IX
Funkadelic fungi IX

There are many things I didn’t know about this mushroom. One is that it isn’t horribly fatal. The second is why it’s called fly agaric. Wikipedia says it’s because the delirium they caused mimicked mental illness, which medieval people thought was caused by flies buzzing round the brainpan. Really?

Funkadelic fungi X
Funkadelic fungi X

And people used to use them as insecticide. They’d put some in milk. Dunno if it worked. Perhaps it’s a psychedelic for bugs, as well, and they’d just go off and stare at random things going, “Maaan, that’s so deep” until their natural predators came along and ate them. Or perhaps its deadly reputation is well-earned amongst the arthropods. The article says mycologist Peter Bulliard couldn’t kill any insects with it, and one of the compounds isolated attracts rather than repels bugs, so its use as a bug zapper seems rather limited.

Funkadelic fungi XI
Funkadelic fungi XI

People apparently can use it to bring on altered states, but it’s got icky side effects. The mushroom above seems to have caused itself an altered state. It also looks like something SETI could use. By the rules of sympathetic magic, this means I can take it to summon aliens, right?

Funkadelic fungi XII
Funkadelic fungi XII

And, I come to find out, the spots can wash off in the rain. Brilliant. It’s a wonder any of these had any spots left at all. At least that explains why a few of them were looking somewhat bald.

Funkadelic fungi XIII

That one reminds me of Marilyn Monroe. And that awful Gene Wilder movie, The Woman in Red. I saw it when I was a tiny child, and never forgot it – because letting your dress blow all around you looked like enormous good fun, only we didn’t have any grates around, so I never got to try it. I could have done it at the blowhole at Wupatki, I suppose, but by then I’d stopped wearing dresses. Maybe next time I go down I’ll bring a red dress and white tights and do a bit of performance art: “Woman Imitating Amanita muscaria Imitating The Woman in Red.” This is how my brain works, people. I’m afraid it’s broken.

Funkadelic fungi XIV
Funkadelic fungi XIV

So that’s them. I’ve got a few funky-colored funkadelic fungi from this bunch, but I’ll save them for later. I’ve heard that fifteen caps are a fatal dose, and I love my readers, so we’ll stop before XV.

Funkadelic Fungi
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14 thoughts on “Funkadelic Fungi

  1. 1

    Well spotted!
    I’ve seen a few around here in dwnundr but I wonder, are they tree specific? I saw a lonely one in the front garden of a house we rented 20 years ago, just once in its gaudy weirdness.
    Also the species featured in a Tintin book,(Shooting Star) where he visits a meteorite crashed into the ocean, where they grow to giant size.
    On second thoughts, not a fly agaric, but inspired by one perhaps.

  2. 2

    The other bit of trivia about these mushrooms, in case you didn’t come across it, is that one of the effects of taking them is that they can interfere with our perception of scale, making big things seem small and vice-versa (I haven’t tried them myself so can’t verify it first-hand, but it’s widely reported) … and it’s reckoned that Lewis Carroll heard of this phenomenon and used it as the basis of the mushroom in Alice in Wonderland that the heroine uses to grow large or small when she needs to.

    Oh, and also, A. muscaria may not be very poisonous, but its cousin A. virosa is one of the most deadly mushrooms, and has probably the coolest name of any poisonous mushroom; the Destroying Angel. But I digress…

  3. rq

    Beautiful samples! :)
    I’ve also read (somewhere) that these mushrooms have been (can be?) used as a (dangerous) male aphrodisiac – in that it can give you an erection that won’t go away (how that goes with all the other effects, I’d really rather not find out…). Anyone?
    Or am I thinking of a different mushroom?

    (Sorry, if I remember I’ll google-fu myself later, just trying to motivate myself to actually get back to work by skimming new blog posts, which means off to try to do some work…)

  4. 4

    If I recall, they don’t smell very appetizing. Aside from one bolete, there aren’t any toxic mushrooms that smell particularly yummy. Isn’t that cool?! And truffles, shiitakes, porcini, and chanterelles smell really good! Evolution be praised!

    P Cubensis smells ok, but whether it’s poisonous or not is a matter of personal preference.

  5. 6

    Back on my comment about evolution: it’s also interesting that mushrooms’ reproductive cycle doesn’t depend on them being eaten and pooped out elsewhere. If they did, even the poisonous ones might smell yummy.

    When I was a kid I spent my summers in a part of France where a regular sunday morning thing was to see folks from the city walking around the edges of the woods in the sheep pastures, hunting mushrooms. The algorithm I was taught was, “if it smells good, it’s edible.” I’ve very rarely been brave enough to eat wild harvested mushrooms (it’s a good way to also eat some psuedomonas and other nasty bacteria, though apparently mushrooms emit some antibacterials) and that was some cepes (chanterelles) my dad made heavenly omlettes with. Om nom nom de nom!

  6. rq

    Chanterelles are the only mushrooms I’d trust myself to pick safely, and that’s because they’re so distinctive. Anything else – meh, best not.
    Also, one of the tame ways one can say ‘fuck off’ in Latvian is ‘ej bekot’ – loosely translated, means ‘go pick mushrooms of the Suilloid genus’. Yes, we have a verb to signify the picking of a specific genus of mushrooms, as opposed to mushrooms in general. :)
    I’m telling you, Tacitus was on to something about that mushroom-eating…

  7. 8

    Wow, I never knew that the spots wash off.

    My friend in British Columbia took a mushroom identification workshop, and they were actually encouraged to taste all of the mushrooms as part of the identification process. Apparently you can taste and spit out the poisonous ones without any ill effect (not that I know enough to recommend this!). Hilariously, one species could reliably be identified because it tasted like semen!

  8. 9

    They are called fly agarics because the raw wood of barns and stables were treated with water in which these mushrooms were mushed up to kill flies. While a shamanistic hallucinogen in some parts, and perhaps the only “plant” to be worshiped as a diety (Soma), they are too dangerous for experimentation in my professional opinion.

  9. 10

    A. Muscaria and its’ cousin A. Pantherina cause fatalities more frequently than you may think. On Vancouver Island alone 2 people have died in recent years and I know of some near misses.
    These mushrooms have a number of toxins/hallucinogens that vary from area to area and from individual mushrooms. Typically a stage of temporary paralysis occurs as well as nausea and victims may choke to death on their own vomit.
    There are NO reliable tests such as taste or odor that can tell you whether a mushroom is safe or not other than proper ID of a known mushroom.
    I would advise against tasting and spitting and would recommend washing your hands after handling a suspect specimen as some varieties have powerful toxins that cause death or at least organ damage in even fairly small amounts.
    Having said that; I have safely enjoyed a variety of wild fungi in my diet over the past 4 decades or so as well as made a good chunk of income from gathering for the market at times.But take caution, not shortcuts.

  10. 11

    Ah, Fly Agaric. The preferred drug of the Shamen of the Lapplander reindeer herders. It induced an out-of-body experience akin to flying. As this fungus was banned to their acolytes they used to eat the “yellow snow” left by the Shamen to get a secondary high!

    It’s twoo, ’tis so!

  11. 12

    There’s only one short stretch where they all grow

    Probably a rotten root.

    This is how my brain works, people. I’m afraid it’s broken.

    That’s not broken.

    “Funkadelic” is a word.

    You may have noticed an ad on the dictionary page you linked for “parliament” (mattresses?). There is a reason for this. Make my funk the P Funk.

  12. 14

    Lovely! You’ve really captured them. The white spots are the remnants of the “veil” that surrounds the young mushroom when it starts to grow. You can see the edge of the other half of it as a ring around the base.

    I avoid any mushroom with white gills. The Destroying Angel is all white and has a relative that’s mostly white except for some shading at the center of the cap.

    The wild versions of the button mushrooms you find in stores are field mushrooms; they are pale brown with pinkish-brown gills that turn brown as the mushroom opens and ages. There’s a giant version, the horse mushroom, that looks just the same except that an open cap will fill a small frying pan.

    The big white puffballs are edible as long as the spores are still white.

    Go out with an experienced picker to gain some confidence. Some of the shelf mushrooms are prized delicacies.

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