We’ve been restoring some rather gorgeous vintage mushroom illustrations this past month, and learned a few things about mushrooms in the process. Here are ten of the most unique we’ve come across.
1. Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)
With its large size and white spots on a bright red cap, Amanita muscaria, known commonly as fly agaric, might be the most widely recognized mushroom in the world. It is a hallucinogenic and poisonous mushroom that is often represented in popular culture (such as in the powerup mushrooms from Super Mario).
Numerous indigenous groups, including the Sámi people of northern Norway and Finland, historically consumed fly agaric as a hallucinogen. Sámi shamans boiled the urine of reindeer that had eaten the mushroom, and then drank the liquid. This was said to produce visions of flying in a spiritual sleigh. Does this all sound a little familiar? It has been speculated that this may be the origin of the idea of Santa’s flying reindeer.
2. Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)
This innocent looking mushroom is anything but. Amanita phalloides, known as the Death Cap is the world’s deadliest mushroom, killing more people than any other mushroom. It grows throughout Europe, and is now sprouting throughout the world. Since this mushroom resembles several edible mushrooms (including Caesar’s mushroom and the straw mushroom) accidental poisonings are common.
3. Destroying Angel (Amanita verna)
Several similar species of deadly mushrooms have the beautifully horrifying common name Destroying Angel. One of these is Amanita verna, also known as the Fool’s mushroom. This image is the first ever published illustration of the mushroom, courtesy of the work of French mycologist Jean Bulliard, who discovered it in 1780. He wrote that this mushroom may be easily confused with edible field mushrooms. Much like the Death Cap, the Destroying Angel contains a lethal dose of a chemical that causes liver failure.
4. Fried Chicken mushroom (Lyophyllum decastes)
Lyophyllum decastes is an edible mushroom that tastes…well, disappointingly not at all like fried chicken. It is said to have a faint radish-like flavor, and while edible is in no way delicious. It even can cause some gastric upset. The Fried Chicken mushroom grows widely across North America, generally in clustered groupings as in this illustration.
5. Morel (Morchella)
Certainly one of the most prized mushroom is Morchella, a genus of mushrooms with a distinctive honeycomb appearance. It is an edible and highly sought after mushroom, prized by chefs worldwide, with a flavor described as earthy, woodsy or nutty. The price of morel mushrooms is quite high, as the commercial mushroom industry depends upon mushroom pickers harvesting wild mushrooms. However, in 2021 Danish researchers discovered a method that allows for the indoor cultivation of morels. It might not be far in the future when affordable morel mushrooms are sitting alongside white button mushrooms in the supermarket!
6. False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta)
Gyromitra Esculenta is one of a number of mushrooms known as a False Morel because of its resemblance to Morel mushroom. It is also known as brain mushroom, turban fungus and elephant ears. While the mushroom may be fatal if consumed raw, it is a delicacy in several parts of the world, including the Great Lakes region of North America.
7. Horn of Plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides)
Craterellus cornucopioides, better known by its epic names Horn of Plenty or Trumpet of the Dead, is an edible mushroom that grows throughout North America, Europe and East Asia. It is known to be unusually difficult to spot, but mushroom hunters report that if one is spotted more are likely to be found nearby. It is said to be one of the most delicious mushrooms, with a strong nutty almost smoky flavor, sometimes compared to black truffle.
8. Heterobasidion annosum
Are mushrooms good for the environment? Well, this fungus is decidedly not angelic. Heterobasidion annosum is considered the most destructive forest pathogen in the Northern Hemisphere, causing a root rot that kills trees. This fungus is responsible for an estimated one BILLION dollars in damage every year to forests!
9. Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus)
Coprinus comatus, commonly known as the Shaggy Ink Cap, Shaggy Mane, or Lawyer’s Wig, is a common mushroom that grows throughout Europe and North America. The young mushrooms are excellent to eat, but only if consumed immediately. Shaggy Ink Caps have the unusual ability to auto-digest themselves after picking, turning black and dissolving within hours. The mushroom has a mild taste and is often used in soups or risotto.
10. Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Pleurotus ostreatus, known also as oyster fungus or hiratake, is a common edible mushroom. It was first cultivated in Germany during WWI, but is now grown commercially around the world. It is one of the only known carnivorous mushrooms. Its mycelia (the root-like structure of a mushroom) can kill and digest nematodes (small worm-like creatures). It is commonly found in Japanese, Korean and Chinese cuisine.
Hope you enjoyed learning a little about mushrooms with us! If you are interested in discovering more about mushrooms, check out our extensive inventory of public domain mushrooms. Edible, poisonous, hallucinogenic, Tofujoe has them all! 🍄