Mushroom species blamed for death of Victoria toddler also found on Gabriola

Jane Reddington

Sounder Staff

Tuesday, October 25 2016

On October 11, 2016, a three-year-old boy in Victoria ingested a Death Cap mushroom and later died in the night. “This tragedy reinforces how important it is for recreational mushroom hunters to know the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous mushrooms. To the untrained eye, it’s easy to mistake a toxic mushroom for an edible one,” says Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health’s Chief Medical Health Officer.

On Gabriola, Stephen Levesque has been foraging for 10 years. “You can find Death Cap mushrooms on the island,” Levesque says. “Without having stopped to fully inspect I have suspected a grouping of Death Cap mushroom on the edge of South Road heading down near the golf course.”

For the past few years he has been teaching students at Gabriola Elementary School safe harvesting and identification. “All the kids from grade one to six have been taught. The students will be getting a refresher in the next two weeks.” Levesque will also be offering an introduction to mushroom identification and cultivation in early November.

Tobi Elliot is a film producer who moved to Gabriola four years ago. “Three years ago when I had my first mushroom, harvested from a friend’s property, he showed me Shaggy Parasols and we had them for breakfast. That was my first time and it was incredibly good. I love local harvesting. That captured me from the beginning. I also have a book, All That the Rain Promises. It’s more of a guide book that identifies mushrooms. There’s an explosion of fungi, and I wanted to see what’s out there.”

Elliot just got back into foraging again this fall. On her latest trek she collected eight mushrooms and then went on a longer hike and saw 15 or 16 different varieties. 

“The two dangerous ones are the Death Cap and the Destroying Angel. Both are really white and in the book they are marked as deadly poisonous. They have a cap that is greenish, yellow and pale that fades to tan or paler. And its gills are all white. Anything with really white gills growing under trees should be identified first before you pick them.”

Other identifiers of the Death Cap are that it is usually bald (without warts) but sometimes with a thin white patch of universal veil tissue. The edge of the cap is without radial line or furrows and a partial veil present forming a skirt-like ring on the upper stalk.

Elliot admits she is new to foraging and will never give anyone a mushroom she hasn’t eaten herself. She says that this time of year, when the first rains come, there is a flush of mushrooms. “They fruit and they come out. Fungi are incredible strands that connect everything in the forest, give minerals to trees and it’s the fruit we eat once it’s started raining.”

Elliot likes being a naturalist and it’s a good excuse to get out into the forest.  Dr. Stanwick says if people choose to forage, they should take certain precautions.

Some tips from Island Health to stay safe while mushroom hunting include focusing on mushrooms that can easily be identified and are safe and edible. 

Go harvesting with an expert. If you are unsure, don’t eat a mushroom. Dig up the entire mushroom if uncertain, to help in its identification. Eat small amounts. Keep a sample of the mushroom that was eaten. Call BC Drug and Poison Information Centre at 1-800-567-8911 or 604-682-5050 and seek medical attention, or call 911. Visit the BC Centre for Disease Control website at www.bccdc.ca and search Death Cap mushrooms.