Mysterious things, mushrooms. Penelope spotted this one beside the wood pile at the bottom of my garden a couple of days ago. From a distance, it looked like one of our common edible ones, but closer inspection revealed an unusual shaggy cap and ominous, creamy-white gills. It was the pale gills that set my alarm bells ringing. It was also unusually large - 19 cm diameter, the size of a fish plate - with more 'personality and presence' than the average mushroom.
When I knelt down to pick it, it came away from the soil without any resistance, as though it had landed there rather than burrowed its way up through the earth. It had none of the muscle and weight of our black- or brown-gilled mushrooms and was lighter and more spongey in texture. I brought it inside to photograph (it was beautiful, particularly with those angelic, butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth gills and I wanted to make a portrait or two) then emailed the pics to Penelope with the comment that I didn't think I'd be having risotto for dinner. . . I then hopped onto the web to visit New Zealand Fungi a wonderful local hub that celebrates all things 'fungi'. (It also has an excellent list of links to related sites, including The Hidden Forest and this one, All About Mushrooms.) My suspicions were confirmed. This handsome mushroom belongs to Amanita family - probably Amanita karea or Amanita sp. - and is extremely poisonous. . . not deadly like Amanita phalloides, the 'death cap', but capable nevertheless of creating havoc with a person's internal systems, esp. the liver. A minute or two after I'd identified it, Penelope emailed with one emphatic sentence in the subject line - "'SHROOM - DO NOT EAT!"
And there I was poring over the photographs I'd just taken, thinking - oooh, look. . . mushroom mandalas! Hmm. . . perhaps not. Although, there might still a message in here that relates back to what's happening in the Gulf. Nature has its own ways of teaching us to be watchful, to do our research and to be alert to wolves in sheep's clothing?
Later: Kay McKenzie-Cooke has just sent through a link to an inspiring article titled 'Healing the World with Mushrooms'. Thank you, Kay!