Amanita muscaria, or fly agaric, is one of the most recognizable mushrooms on the planet. The red-capped, white-spotted toadstool has been depicted countless times throughout history. However, this famous fungus has many variations that are less distinctive but more common throughout the United States.
This article explores the different types of Amanita muscaria, where they grow, and how to identify them.
Amanita Muscaria Var. Muscaria
Amanita muscaria var. muscaria is the classic red-and-white variety commonly associated with fairy tales and folklore. It has a bright red cap with white patches, commonly known as warts.
These warts are the remnants of a structure known as the universal veil that covers the mushrooms as they emerge from the ground. As the mushrooms grow, their universal veil breaks into smaller pieces that remain on the cap. However, they can easily be removed or washed off by rain.
Amanita muscaria var. muscaria is thought to be native to the Siberian-Beringian area and is prevalent throughout Europe and Asia. It also grows in Australia and New Zealand. It is less common in the United States but may be found in Alaska.
Next, we will discuss some of the more common American varieties. These are considered variations rather than distinct species as they share at least two features with Amanita muscaria var. muscaria and have similar DNA. Their key identifying features are:
- Warts on the cap.
- A ring on the upper stem.
- A swollen stem base with shaggy concentric rings.
- Containing the psychoactive chemicals ibotenic acid and muscimol.
For more information on this quintessential mushroom’s appearance, please read our article on identifying Amanita muscaria here on the VidaCap blog.
Amanita Muscaria Var. Flavivolvata
Amanita muscaria var. flavivolvata is one of the more prevalent American variants. It can be found from Central America through the Western United States to Western Canada. It is most common in the Pacific North-West and Rocky Mountains areas.
This red mushroom has a superficially similar appearance to Amanita muscaria var. muscaria. The critical difference is the color of the universal veil, which is yellow at first before fading to white. Therefore, these mushrooms may have yellowish warts and traces of yellow on their ring and stem base. They may also be slightly larger than other Amanita muscaria variants.
Like all of the mushrooms on this list, they contain the active compounds ibotenic acid and muscimol, which have powerful psychoactive effects when correctly prepared.
Amanita Muscaria Var. Formosa
Amanita muscaria var. formosa is also known as the yellow variant. This subspecies has a yellow or orange cap instead of the typical red. It is most commonly found in parts of North America, especially the Western United States and Canada.
Amanita muscaria var. formosa differs from its red cousins primarily in its cap coloration. Its other features are very similar. It also contains the same active chemicals as Amanita muscaria var. muscaria. Therefore, an Amanita muscaria var. formosa trip will have similar effects.
Amanita Muscaria Var. Guessowii
Amanita muscaria var. guessowii is primarily found in North America. This subspecies often has a reddish-brown or peach-colored cap with white patches or remnants of the universal veil. It grows in large groups in the Northern Mid-West and Eastern United States, from the boreal forests of the Northeast to the South of the Appalachians.
Like the other Amanita muscaria variants on the list, it contains ibotenic acid and muscimol, which are responsible for Amanita muscaria var. guessowii’s psychoactive effects. Therefore, an Amanita muscaria var. guessowii trip is similar to the other variants.
Possible Amanita muscaria var. guessowii look-alikes include Amanita persicina, another peach-colored amanita. This mushroom is native to the South-Eastern USA and was previously considered another Amanita muscaria variant. However, it has now been reclassified as a separate species.
Amanita persicina differs from the other mushrooms on this list in the appearance of its stem base, which features scattered fragments of the universal veil rather than concentric rings. It contains the same active compounds and has similar effects.
Amanita Muscaria Var. Alba
The Amanita muscaria var. alba variation is characterized by its white or cream-colored cap with whitish to tan-colored warts. It is less common than the other subspecies and is typically found in some areas of Europe and the Northern United States, from Washington to New York.
Amanita muscaria var. alba’s pale appearance is due to a process called albefaction, which is common among several amanita species. It is thought to occur due to a genetic mutation, although its precise cause is unclear.
Like the other Amanita muscaria variants, it contains ibotenic acid and muscimol and has sought-after psychoactive effects. However, as it is less common, an Amanita muscaria var. Alba growing in the wild could be an even more exciting find.
That said, great care must be taken when identifying this mushroom as it could look similar to other white amanitas that are deadly poisonous, such as Amanita virosa, also known as the Destroying Angel.
Different Types of Amanita Muscaria: Final Thoughts
Several types of Amanita muscaria grow throughout the USA, and differentiating them depends on their appearance and location. Although they share common features, their cap and wart colors vary significantly.
Note that the above are the most common American subspecies, and several other Amanita muscaria varieties grow worldwide. Therefore, if you plan on foraging for Amanita muscaria, it is essential to familiarize yourself with your local variety and how to identify it confidently.
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